Writer: Rosie MacPherson and Rosie Gillet
Director: Hannah Butterfield
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Respect, Support, Commitment – That’s Our Promise pronounces the website for Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Emily Ntshangase-Wood, who was detained there along with the 400 other resident women while waiting for immigration clearance, doesn’t quite remember it that way. Arriving in the UK on a crowded boat, escaping an abusive trafficker, Ntshangase-Wood arrived at the centre terrified and alone. She didn’t know what she’d done to deserve being there.
Tanja is Emily Ntshangase-Wood’s own story – and here she tells it with bravery and intensity. It’s a first outing for the play, and for Ntshangase-Wood as a performer. She’s a compelling story-teller and there’s a powerful tale here that brings home the humanity and personal suffering behind the media headlines.
There’s a problem, though. SBC Theatre Company has created a play that smothers Ntshangase-Wood’s simple delivery with a whole lot of unnecessary noise and untidiness. Recorded and live sound effects add nothing and occasionally drown out her voice. There are multiple languages, sign language and poorly delivered poetry. Words and images on two video screens and a range of clunky lighting states disrupt the flow of the piece. Bethany Wells’s design aims to reflect the prison-like nature of Yarl’s Wood, but Ntshangase-Wood’s words alone do it so much better. In the end, everything becomes distracting clutter, dulling the emotional impact.
Performances from writer Rosie MacPherson and Producer John Tomlinson are lacklustre, especially MacPherson’s protest poem, delivered from amongthe audience. She seems slightly embarrassed to have stepped through the fourth wall, something that Ntshangase-Wood does with ease and charm in early scenes, making an instant connection with her audience.
Ntshangase-Wood has a beautiful singing voice and delivers some haunting moments of unaccompanied Zimbabwean song. Just this, along with her words, would have been a more powerful and moving way to tell what should be a much more affecting and memorable piece of theatre.
Runs until 17 September 2016 | Image: Contributed