Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
08 Nov 2017 – 18 Nov 2017
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
I will be honest, Lampedusa by Wonder Fools makes for an uncomfortable watch. In the intimate black box that is Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre Circle Studio we find ourselves extremely close to the two actors whose interleaved monologues we listen to, but that is not where the discomfort lies. It is in Anders Lustgarten’s play, which takes the global problem of mass migration and forces us to face that it is everyone’s responsibility. He also shines an unflinching spotlight on some home grown issues: institutionalised attitudes to the poor and, he argues, endemic racism.
Stefano, an Italian ex-fisherman salvaging the bodies of drowned trafficked migrants from North Africa from the sea off the island of Lampedusa, describes what happens to bodies after days and weeks in the water. He says he gets used to the shock of finding them, but the dread as to what condition they will be in never goes away. His distress is accompanied by rage: “Where is everybody else?” he cries and when he reads of a disaster or a crisis he can predict who will be turning up on Europe’s shores next. Of those who survive he says “I resent them for their hope,” because he has none: the fish have gone, his country is a basket case.
The other protagonist, Denise, a mixed-race student in Leeds is funding her studies by acting as a pay day loan collector from people who spit on her, and racially abuse her. She is also in a vehement battle with work capability assessors over her sick mother’s clearly proven case for benefits. Like Stefano, her view of her own country and by extension, Europe, is that it is utterly broken; she will not be staying when she gets her degree. Describing herself as “mixed, mouthy and poor”, at times her impassioned speeches almost tip over into a diatribe, but a more nuanced performance (and writing) comes when her character meets with kindness. Indeed, this is the third theme of the play: kindness and friendship from the most unexpected quarters undoes both Stefano and Denise and liberates them from their bitterness and despair.
Both actors give committed performances of an exceptionally intelligent and humane play. Andy Clark as Stefano is particularly subtle and intense, while Louise Mai’s Denise is realistically brittle and angry. With music provided by guitarist/composer Stuart Ramage that is like a third voice in the play rather than an accompaniment to it, Lampedusa is that odd thing; an evening of very good theatre that will leave you feeling very uncomfortable.
Reviewer : Mary Thomson