Review: Potent, Knowing Theatre To Remind Us of Our Humanity

In a week that’s seen post-Brexit malaise only deepened by the ever-increasing ugliness of our tabloid press, Phone Home at Shoreditch Town Hall offered up the perfect tonic. A production devised by three companies from across Europe, Upstart Theatre (Britain), Pathos München (Germany), and Sforaris Theatre Company (Athens), have created an example of what can be achieved through European collaboration - it’s even co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union, something we will surely miss.

These three companies have sought to construct a performance upon the theme of home, and what it means to leave it. Inevitably, this brought them into the realm of the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time - the Syrian Civil War, which has seen swathes of innocents displaced and forced to seek refuge in Europe. Devised in workshops with refugee groups, it tells their story in an innovative way, as the collaboration between these three companies extends beyond planning and into performance. Each night the show will be performed simultaneously across Europe and broadcast to each theatre with actors interacting via video link.

Phone Home takes the form of a series of vignettes, touching on notions of home and communication, some rely upon interplay between the three companies, others are self-contained. It produces a variety of scenes and styles which keeps the performance fresh through its ninety minutes running time, with humorous skewering of Brexit and an increasingly insular Britain playing out alongside more serious issues.

Phone Home is also under no illusion to its own potency

There is an impressive psychological robustness to the show. It would be very easy to fall back upon cliches of designed to elicit a cheap emotional response, rendering the experience saccharine and naive. Instead, we hear the stories of not just the child refugees our press reviles, but of those fpr whom you would not expect to find sympathy, deportation officers trying to contextualise their own actions, or people smugglers and their motivations. It can be difficult to see the humanity behind refugees: despite the best intentions, we see figures to pity, not people with lives of their own, so Phone Home should be praised for reminding us the people we see on the News at Ten are more than just evacuees.

Phone Home is also under no illusion to its own potency. These performers are self-aware enough to chide themselves for believing a play can change the world and confident enough to gently mock an audience looking for absolution in attending. A framing device in the form of a pan-European charity gala broadcast from London, Athens, and Munich, provides a comical and knowing critique of the sort of charity appeals which end up more of a publicity shoot than a force for change, taking a swipe at our ability to feel we’ve done our part by tweeting a hashtag from our armchairs, or sharing a video of a celebrity in a lifejacket.

The success of the show is heavily reliant upon the mercy of not just the theatre gods, but technology too, which can never truly be trusted. A smooth run relies upon a seamless connection between theatres and video links, with the actors having to be sure of their own timing too. It is perhaps fitting that a show about the difficulty of communications across borders suffered from just that.

For the first third of the performance, a lack of a proper video link meant the audience in Shoreditch Town Hall could hear performers in Munich and Athens but not see them. In spite of this, it has to be said that Ramzi DeHani, Simon Carroll-Jones, Nadi Kemp-Safyi, and Rochi Rampal, the performers in our own part of the world adapted in a brilliantly composed manner, showing that perhaps the old ways will always be the best.

Having said that, when normal service was resumed the interplay between companies worked well and there was certainly enough to suggest that it’s is worth the risk of a few technical problems. This level of collaboration across Europe is impressive in the planning stages, but to see such a novel approach to theatre across borders really ought to be applauded.

Phone Home is on at Shoreditch Town Hall, from 21st to 31st October.

Enjoyed this article?

Help us to fund independent journalism instead of buying:

Also in Disclaimer

Fascists Not Welcome. No Ifs, No Buts, No Fudging, Theresa May Must Cancel Trump’s Visit

The Trump’s administration “zero tolerance” policy of separating children from parents at the border, then incarcerating the children is not just an affront to democratic values. Theresa May must put her caution to one side, stand up to Donald Trump and condemn him and his policies for what they are.

Legalising Cannabis, A Question of When and How

The case of Billy Caldwell has brought a spotlight on Britain's drug laws that go beyond the need for medical marijuana laws. Decriminalisation is no longer enough. Britain must legalise cannabit to win the war on drugs.

An Italy/Canada trade war is not a joke but a sign of worse to come

Italy’s unholy political alliance of the far-right nationalist Northern League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement has threatened not to ratify a sweeping European Union trade deal with Canada. They are not alone in their concerns but

The Week on Planet Trump: Celebrating Singapore Summit with Praise for “Tough Guy” Kim

Dona;d Trump's extraordinary sumjmit in Singapore with Kim Jung Un has dominated the news. Only a few months ago mant feared a nuclear war and the two squared up with Twitter insults. Now Trump has lavished praise on the brutal dictator.

Tweet Checking: Corbynite Brexit Quislings, and the Role of Our Elected Representatives

Theresa May on the CHristopher Chope affair; Alex Nunns and the Lexiters on Corbyn's EEA absention; the role of an MP. Just some of the things we check for you.