Writer: Estelle Savasta
Director: Omar Elerian
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
The Bush is one of the most socially conscious theatres in London, always tackling contemporary issues, and is never afraid of asking difficult questions. It, therefore, comes as a surprise that Going Through, a play about deafness and migration doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Nour lives with a woman she wishes was her mother. Youmna has taken care of her since she was a baby, living in a tiny house in a village in an undisclosed country. Nour’s mother has promised that one day she will send for her daughter to come and join her in the West. And that day comes when gunfire can be heard from the nearby mountains, and when girls are no longer allowed in the local school. Saying goodbye to Youmna, Nour begins her long journey westward dressed as a boy.
Youmna is deaf, and so Nour knows two languages: the sign language of Youmna, and ‘the language of the mouth’ that she has learnt at school. When the two women speak in sign, there is a gentle choreography to their words, and their shadows often fall upon Rajha Shakiry’s set of moving walls. Sometimes the words they are speaking are projected onto these walls ensuring that this play is accessible to both hearing and deaf audiences.
However, despite director Omar Elerian’s best intentions, the play is overly simplistic, and with its modest vocabulary, seems like it was written for children, echoing Nour’s assertion that ‘It’s not always children stories that happen to children’. Written in 2011 by French playwright Estelle Savasta, this is Going Through’s UK premiere, but it tells us little new about the experiences of migrants, and for a play about movement, it is very static.
The two actors, Nadia Nadarajah as Youmna and Charmaine Wombwell as Nour, do the best they can, but with words and images constantly projected upon the set, there is very little for them to do. At one point, Wombwell narrates the story as if it is a slide show, turning her back on the audience as she reads from a script.
Ponderously slow at times, Going Through is a long 75 minutes, and is a rare misfire for The Bush. Its staging and its style only distance the audience from the story, and the result is a strangely unemotional affair.
Runs until 27 April 2019 | Image: Ali Wright