Writer and Director: Luca Silvestrini
Music: Andy Pink and Anthar Kharana
Devised and performed by: Eryck Brahmania, Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Andrew Gardiner, Kenny Wing Tao Ho, Anthar Kharana, Stephen Moynihan, Yuyu Rau
Border Tales opens with an empty stage, cracked in two by a line of blue light. Two dancers demonstrate an attempt, but ultimate inability, to greet one another which leads to frustration and hostility. The visual border is symbolic but it is the invisible borders we create every day, the simple inability to greet or understand one another, which concerns this work. Luca Silvestrini, blends dance, music and speech in a nuanced examination of living in multicultural Britain.
Since premiering in 2013, Protein have revised Border Tales to reflect political change. The latest version from 2017 was made available to stream online last night. Little is lost from experiencing it three years later or through a camera lens. The international cast of seven perform with equal skill and strength. Each gives voice to their unique experience of living in Britain’s so-called melting pot. The choreography and lighting shifts between individual and communal storytelling.
Hosting a welcome party, Englishman Andy (Andrew Gardiner) chants ‘leave, remain, leave, remain,” at his international party guests, directing them to skip back and forth across the stage. Border Tales is fiercely relevant, and at first glance seems a Brexit work. Only five minutes in though, it is clear Silvestrini’s piece offers an all-encompassing analysis of cultural identity and human belonging. In only seventy-five minutes, its scope is remarkable; Silvestrini covers everything from prejudice, abuse, patronisation, commodification, exoticism and offensive stereotyping.
Temitope Ajose-Cutting’s introduction exemplifies the work’s impressive use of physical and verbal wit to satire cultural prejudices. From the performing monkey to the ‘mm mm girlfriend,’ Ajose-Cutting flows through the stereotypes placed on Black women. There are no subtleties to Silvestrini’s satire of stereotyping. In another scene, Andy and Steve (Steven Moynihan) engage in debate while being massaged by cast members with Asian cultural backgrounds Kenny Wing Tao Ho and Yuyu Rau. Andy yells patronisingly at Rau “tension” as though she is unable to understand English. As seamlessly as all the scene changes, Rau then takes centre stage to address many of the identities that are forced upon Asian women.
Identity markers are significant throughout Border Tales; language not only constructs identity but also forces it upon others. At the party, Andy makes introductions by categorising each guest by nationality, religion and, rather comically, drink choice. It seems his interest is well-meaning, but by forcing a neat category on, or border around, them Andy others his guests. However, being the most socially incapable at the party, Andy is the one who stands out for the audience. Albeit an English caricature, his behaviour is uncomfortably rooted in the truth. Humour is at the work’s fore, but never dilutes the proactive message intended and there is no escape from audience self-reflection.
In one scene, Andy enters the audience in order to categorise people once more, by guessing different foods they like. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t capture any of this and it feels like there is a gap in the otherwise fast-paced and enthralling production. However, this is the only moment we lose anything through the screen. The camera work and sound quality amplifies the piece; in particular the outstanding music by one-man orchestra Anthar Kharana fills your living room with atmosphere and intensity. Kharana’s versatility – playing several instruments and mixing multiple styles with his beguiling voice – is uniquely outstanding.
A seamless blend of humour and rage, words and actions, isolation and togetherness; Border Tales reminds us that we are all searching for somewhere to belong.
Available online 7th May at 7pm for 24 hours