Writer: Simon Grangeat
Director: Becka McFadden
This timely and informative examination of borders and migrants is unfortunately undone by an over-busy production featuring projections, comedy interludes, some toe-curlingly bad contemporary dance and even some vegetables.
Closed Land starts well with a member of the five-strong cast remembering when the Berlin Wall came down and how its toppling seemed to herald a new future in world politics. But since 1989, other walls have been planned and constructed. Of course, the cast discuss Trump’s Mexican wall with one actor doing a great job at impersonating the president, but the actors – all migrants to Britain themselves – talk about other walls, less familiar.
That George W Bush had also proposed a wall along the Mexican border comes as a surprise as does the fact that Spain has territory inside Morocco. One of the Spanish enclaves is called Melilla and is separated from Morocco by a double fence over six metres tall, but still migrants manage to scale it. Indeed, one actor says that it can take up to 25 times before your escape into another country is successful.
Other walls and other journeys are described, but sometimes the direction is chaotic with actors speaking the same words simultaneously and moving across imagined deserts as animals, bats and meerkats perhaps. A computerised voice provides us with dictionary definitions and promotes companies who can make migration an easier enterprise. Scene changes are done to the music of old arcade games, suggesting that the struggle to cross borders is like a computer game, where sometimes the player is forced to begin at the start again.
French playwright Simon Grangeat wants to impart so much information that perhaps theatre isn’t the right medium for this kind of show. Instead Closed Lands would make an excellent Ted Talk where the facts could stand alone. Sometimes the busy antics of the company called LegalAliens, working very hard it must be said, threaten to overshadow the atrocities that they want to uncover. In this case less would be more.
On press night, there were a few problems with the lights and the scene changes were quite clunky, but these will be sorted, no doubt, for later shows. The final wall the cast discuss is one that Britain has recently built, and the last scene, quiet and still apart from the fresh and hopeful smell of cut cucumber, is the most effective.
Runs until 8 March 2020