Touring – reviewed at Tara Arts, London
In an unassuming takeaway pizza place somewhere in London, four men answer the phones and process orders. They also reminisce about the journeys that led them there. From Afghanistan, Albania and Eritrea, they made their ways through war zones, deserts and detainment centres on their own, as children. Now they’re adults with hopes and dreams like anyone, but they are irrevocably shaped by their experienced as children seeking safety in a country that’s doing its best to deter them, and others like them, from living safe and peaceful lives. It’s time for us to listen to what they have to say.
Phosphoros Theatre Company platform immigrants and refugees’ stories using comedy, narration and pathos. We hear about political situations back home, phone calls with mum, their navigation of Home Office protocol and the things they want to achieve. The most impactful device we see however, is that the ensemble of actors are also themselves – Tewodros Aregawe, Goitom Fesshaye, Emirjon Hoxhaj and Syed Haleem Najibi. Though the piece is shaped by trained theatremakers, authenticity profoundly resonates throughout.
The show could take a much more sombre approach than it does, but it is instead underpinned by hope. There are plenty of digs at the UK’s attitudes towards immigrants and refugees, but they are delivered with affection and charm – perhaps more than British people deserve what with the rampant xenophobia and racism regularly on show in this country. But then, refugees and immigrants are expected to gratefully bow and scrape rather than criticise; making too much of a fuss, particularly when waiting on decisions from the Home Office, could have major consequences. A bit more anger at the systems that led them here wouldn’t go amiss, however.
There’s also scope to expand the narratives on show. At an hour long, that gives each of the men just 15 minutes to tell their story. Though they quickly and effectively elicit empathy, we only really see them in broad strokes. More time would allow for more individual detail and a more nuanced dramaturgical structure to develop.
But as just four of the 8 million people in London, they have immense power to move us. If this production could be required viewing for the entire government and fearful Little England, perhaps this nation could find some of its long-lost humanity.
Pizza Shop Heroes tours the UK through October.
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