Writers: Dave Morris, Lynn Morris
Directors: Lynn Morris, Dave Morris
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Journeymen Theatre is a husband-and-wife team touring short, self-written, issue-based plays round non-theatre venues throughout the UK. By the time of the Leeds performance, The Bundle was coming towards the end of a series of approximately 80 performances in 2017.
The Bundle is a 65-minute two-hander presenting in a variety of styles – plain narrative, folktale, realistic drama, satire, documentary – the ongoing true story of a Chechen asylum seeker, still working through the multiple stages of application-rejection-appeal in her quest for refugee status. So topical and relevant is the material that her latest appeal is due only a few days after this performance. “The bundle” could be various things in the course of the narrative, but essentially it is the bulging file of documents and photocopies the asylum-seeker must accumulate in order to make her case before the tribunal.
The Bundle makes it clear that not all asylum seekers leave their homelands because of something as dramatic as civil war or famine. The story of “Adilah Khasanov” (not her real name) tells of denial of human rights initially on a domestic basis, but sanctioned and supported by a male-dominated society that casts her as the villain, not the victim.
Adilah is taken to Chechnya from her Russian homeland by her Chechen father and has to endure all sorts of verbal and physical abuse from her family there, treated almost as a servant. Despite this, she gains a degree and starts on a good career in the law. Then she is forced into marriage and out of her job and, after further humiliations, she ingeniously manages to get a flight to Gatwick with her three children. This sets in motion a different series of rather more subtle humiliations, part of the “hostile environment” enforced by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May.
The Bundle begins with two narrators pitching the story almost as a fairy story – Cinderella, understandably, gets name-checked more than once – and switching in and out of character for brief dramatic scenes: Lynn Morris is particularly terrifying as Adilah’s venomous aunt. There is poetry in some of the description and a surprising sense of tension in their escape, though, of course, we know that Adilah succeeds in getting to the UK.
Once in the UK, there is much more variety of tone and a few rapid costume changes behind the screen, decorated with Union Flag and foreign passport, that is the major component in the set. Adilah’s personal struggle alternates with scenes examining the wider question. Satire on Home Office practices probably nails the underlying attitudes pretty well, even if the presentation is somewhat cartoonish. A remarkable scene, with Lynn Morris as the Head of a primary school full of asylum seekers and Dave Morris as the nice man from OFSTED who doesn’t understand anything but targets, is apparently taken directly from information supplied by such a headteacher. A bit of knockabout humour with a sour taste of reality comes with Dave Morris’ rabid Little Englander raging about the privileges enjoyed by all these foreign immigrants.
The play ends with a plea for inclusiveness and a montage of inflammatory news headlines attacking asylum seekers. In Carlton Hill, the message was warmly received in a half-hour discussion session that, unlike most theatre Q&As, really seemed to be an essential part of the evening.
Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed