“It’s current theatre and it’s necessary theatre”
Recently the West End has been inundated with theatre that takes us away from the current world and its affairs. We enjoy sitting back for a couple of hours and watching something that will make us tap our feet or just allow us to ignore what’s awaiting outside the auditorium doors. The Jungle is not one of these shows, but in the best way possible. The Young Vic transfer play about the infamous refugee camp in Calais not only opens your eyes but brings you personally into the chaotic situation that many of us only hear about behind a screen or inside a paper. It’s current theatre and it’s necessary theatre.
This true story starts in shaken disorder – the occupants of the camp have been greeted with another eviction notice which divides them all. Arguments, threats and desperate pleas for a solution, fight over the stage in a tumultuous first act. As the show progresses we go back to the beginning, see how the camp came to be and watch individual stories unfold – a creation of an Afghan restaurant within the camp, volunteers feuding on the best tactics to help, conflicting residents forced to work together. This newly-created community, in the struggle for survival, and their attempts to make it to the UK to claim asylum.
Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s play, directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, is an impressive collection of connected stories of those who lived in the refugee camp until its eventual destruction.
Transferring from a sell-out run at the Young Vic to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre, we see the traditional theatre auditorium transformed into a semi-immersive experience. Miriam Buether’s set turns the stalls into the restaurant part of the camp with audience members sat alongside long tables and against the walls. Decorated by cushions, a variety of fabrics, gravelled flooring and painted walls, the enveloping stage creates a beautiful theatrical affair.
If the first act of the show demonstrates a spontaneity of many colliding storylines, the second act starts to separate them and bring them to a closer, more structured detail. Because of this, the second act can temporarily lack the punch of the first but audiences are still leaving with awakened eyes. We are still able to enjoy the humour and the play’s likeable characters such as Ben Turner’s Salar, Jo McIness’ child-protecting volunteer and John Pfumojena’s Okot as well as the rest of the stunning cast.
The Jungle demonstrates how well-constructed theatre can reach out to us emotionally (and politically) about today’s issues, but also serve as a warning. We are taken out of the play’s setting for its final minutes as the cast stress the reality of why The Jungle, as a play, is being performed. An experience not to be missed.
Photos: Tristram Kenton