Periodically the Old Vic Theatre releases short solo pieces under the general heading of One Voice. These are often tied to a particular theme such as One Hand Tied Behind Us for International Women’s Day or their series celebrating the achievements of the NHS in The Greatest Wealth. The latest trio commemorates Refugee Week 2021 and is simply called Home? The title comes from Warsan Shire’s poem which starts “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark” (full poem here). Both she and the trilogy curator Noma Dumezweni bring their experiences of being refugee children to the project which examines the landscape of finding yourself to be one of the dispossessed.
Although these are essentially monologues two of the three pieces take a rather different tack than having a single performer directly address the camera. Dina Nayeri’s Now I’m Gonna Get Paid starts conventionally enough with the protagonist Yasmin getting herself ready to deliver a TED talk. It’s going to be a slightly glossy take on art and perseverance in the face of difficulty and she has dressed in a red trouser suit and high heels to make a visual impression. But hardly has the talk begun than the screen splits and a second iteration of the same character appears alongside. Although dressed in the same outfit the jacket and shoes are missing and her hair is rather more distressed. This is Yasmin’s alter ego/conscience who has come to tell it like it really is/was. The talk becomes a debate between her two selves and gradually one manages to persuade the other to her point of view; appearance is altered accordingly. The power of the performance from Betsabeh Emran carries this piece to a thought provoking conclusion.
The second play also tinkers with the notion of the one voice monologue. The Displaced by Pulitzer prize winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen is certainly one continuous speech but is performed by a quartet of actors. Their voices ebb and flow often overlapping, the point being, I think, to demonstrate that being a refugee has common features as well as a highly personal individual dimension. Viet Thanh Nguyen has previously edited a book of essays (also called The Displaced) by prominent writers on the topic and this is a revised version of his introduction. As such, and interesting though the material is, I didn’t feel I was watching a play so much as listening to another talk but a rather more dispassionate one than that featured in Nayeri’s play which preceded it. The speech is well balanced in that it starts with the writer telling us all the things he can’t remember about having to leave his home and finishing with all the things he can but as a piece of drama I didn’t really think it worked.
Then And Now is the most conventional of the three pieces using the traditional direct address to camera approach. This final play features the well known (and highly regarded) tones of Dame Harriet Walter who is a patron of West London Welcome, a refugee charity. Writer and activist Natasha Walter (no relation as far as I can see) keeps things simple in this tale which conflates the experiences of her own maternal grandparents who fled Nazi Germany (the “then”) with the story of Sara who having arrived from Africa finds herself incarcerated in a detention centre (the “now”). The irony exists in the fact that then in the 1930s the aim was to flee from internment which would seem to be the very outcome that is happening now. The script is leavened with a couple of appropriate quotes from Theresa May and Pritti Patel which put current thinking into its political context. Harriet Walter brings all her experience to bear on keeping things simple and direct and to my mind this was the strongest of the trio despite, or even perhaps because of, taking the most conventional approach.
Home? is available on the Old Vic website – click here
To keep up with the blog and all the latest online theatre reviews please click here and choose a follow option
For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released productions) please click here. This list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)