Beverly Andrews reviews a powerful play based on the migrant camp at the town of Calais in France and its impact on those who found themselves marooned there.
The Jungle, Old Vic, London
The 'Jungle' was a refugee encampment in France near the tiny town of Calais. It was in use from January 2015 to October 2016 and at its height had thousands of people living there.
Its occupants were migrants who had made their way to Europe by stowing away in lorries, ferries, cars and trains--any vehicles possible in the hope of crossing the Channel and claiming refugee status in the UK.
The camp and those who lived there are the subject of the acclaimed Young Vic production, The Jungle, which has now transferred to London's West End. The play seeks to give a face to those who are all too often made to appear faceless.
It starts at the conclusion to events, at the moment when the residents have received a final eviction order and the bulldozers are being sent in. Residents frantically try to rescue their belongings and in some cases, try one last desperate attempt to make their way across the channel.
This is a chapter of a contemporary tragedy, a variation of which is being played out in countries around the world. From this ominous beginning, The Jungle rewinds to the start when there was hope, when there was the possibility of a very different conclusion.
Playwrights Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy have woven the stories of those who lived there alongside those who volunteered to help. They chart the emotional journeys of all involved over the course of that year.
We see the stories of those who fled persecution, economic collapse and its ensuing violence, risking all they had for a fresh start. The Jungle also focuses on the grimness of the reality they arrive at.
We meet the principle characters, often with stories which are heartbreaking, such as that of the African teenager Okot, played beautifully by John Pfumojena, who appears the most desperate to cross. His past is sketched quite hazily, which is a reality for many who lived at the camp since those there usually chose not to share their past experiences, some finding it too traumatic to do so. We eventually learn that Okot had been tortured, we see the horrific scars, and understand that any return home would be a death sentence.
We also meet the camp's defacto leader, the eloquent Safi played by Ammar Haj Ahmad, a highly educated man who acts as the play's narrator. He tells the story of each...