Writers: Bethany Sheldon and Kathryn Lowe, devised with Teele Uustani, Raquel Pereira, Elena Casotto
Directors: Bethany Sheldon and Kathryn Lowe
Reviewer: Dave Smith
If home is no longer home, then where do we belong?
This is the question posed by Maison Foo in their new show about migration, A Thing Mislaid, a hugely engaging, imaginative and skilful performance combining visual storytelling, clowning and humour with new experiments in miniature puppetry and live camera.
The show is also piloting Coventry-based theatre company Talking Birds’ Difference Engine (a discreet new tool for making events and performance accessible to partially-sighted, deaf or hard of hearing audience members by delivering captioning or audio description direct to their mobile device) to provide captions in both English and Arabic.
In 2017, Maison Foo’s Artistic Directors Bethany Sheldon and Kathryn Lowe visited the Derby Refugee Advice Centre (DRAC). That led to Maison Foo’s Refugee Friend Scheme, and the stories in A Thing Mislaid were inspired by the conversations with the refugees at DRAC.
Steadily, silently and with great determination, Flea (Teele Uustani) is running. We don’t know exactly where she’s from, just that it’s “back there”, and we don’t know where she’s going, just that it’s “that way”. Soon she’s joined by Wanda (Raquel Pereira), who’s everything Flea is not: talkative, inquisitive, imaginative.
At first, Flea is reluctant to let Wanda join her, but when they find a box and Wanda decides that it contains a bird that needs returning to its family, their journey turns into a quest and together they embark on a series of adventures that will not only help the bird but also find themselves a new home.
Slowly but surely, A Thing Mislaid draws the audience into Flea and Wanda’s world, to feel their fear, their thrill at small victories and their need for optimism and hope in a desperate situation. It’s by no means a straightforward narrative: Maison Foo has not taken the refugees’ stories and experiences and placed them literally on the stage. You need to tune in to their approach to ‘get it’, but the effort is more than worthwhile.
Raquel Pereira and Teele Uustani – who are not just performers, they also helped devise the show – work brilliantly well together and with the audience. They have to put in a lot of hard work because this is a physically demanding show. They also bring a huge amount of physical humour to the piece. As the only members of the cast, there’s a lot resting on their shoulders but they carry it off superbly.
The set, designed by Sam Wilde, is deceptively simple. Moved around the stage by the performers, it becomes a restaurant, a door through which Flea and Wanda attempt to enter a new country and a van in which they try to hide from the approaching security forces. Alexandra Stafford’s lighting and composer Matt Marks’ score are similarly understated yet add layers of atmosphere to the show.
Particularly inspired, indeed brilliant, are the sequences using miniature cameras operated by the performers along with small ‘sets’ that allow them to portray long walks across different landscapes in different seasons and a nighttime drive through a new city in a truly creative way.
Put simply, A Thing Mislaid is a magical and moving piece of creative theatre that deserves a far wider audience than the one its small tour around the Midlands is likely to draw. Catch it if you can.
Runs Until 22 September 2018 and on tour | Image: Robert Day