Award-winning playwright Grace Chapman tells a tragic story of the refugee crisis in ‘Don’t Look Away’ at the Pleasance Theatre.
The refugee crisis. A heart wrenching tale of unbelievable kindness, unimaginable sadness and uncertain Britishness is at the heart of this tale by award-winning writer Grace Chapman, so it’s a real shame that it falls totally flat and feels utterly meh.
In a small, intimate room tucked down the side of the Pleasance Theatre, our three protagonists are facing one another. Cath—played perfectly by Julia Barrie—works as a cleaner in a community centre and lives a lonely, dismal life in her tiny Bradford flat. That is until she meets Adnan (Robert Hannouch), a Syrian refugee seeking asylum, and her intelligent and entitled brat of a son, Jamie (Brian Fletcher), suddenly decides to come home from uni after having deserted her to live with his poor-excuse of a father at the age of 14.
Having reluctantly accepted to take in Adnan while he rides the endless tides of British bureaucracy, Cath is thrown into an impossible nightmare of a situation: stuck between two proud men with very little to be proud of, who have nowhere else to go and depend on her for everything.
The set is bare, the actors are good, and the characters are painted as they should be: plain and angry and stranded in a confusing country founded on theories of compassion and democracy, yet grounded in the practicalities of capitalist greed and British supremacy. In this way, Chapman does a great job of drawing the lines between the plight of the working class here and abroad, showcasing the extraordinary cost of human kindness and portraying the guilty, unfathomable love of a mother who adopts a stranger to replace a lost son.
It’s a tragic story and yet, somehow, the audience is left feeling disconnected and emotionless. Perhaps it’s because we’re growing increasingly incentivised to these global calamities, or perhaps the plot, the stage direction and the characters are so beige and basic that the whole thing feels a little like a tone-deaf pastiche. We get the sense that we’ve seen this story already, there’s very little room for nuance and surprise, the stage choreography meant to convey the tension is this awkward love/need triangle is painfully bulky, and the anti-climatic end seems abrupt and out of character. In other words, Don’t Look Away is a crucially important story, just not really one we’d recommend you go see.
Don’t Look Away runs at the Pleasance Theatre until 18 May.
Words by Jessica Erb. Images by Ryan Cowan.
Also published on Medium.