• Amy Toledano

On Arriving presented by Searchout Theatre

What Is It?

Searchout Theatre’s debut play, this one woman show is performing as part of the Vault Festival. Written by Ivan Faute, performed by Sophia Eleni and directed by Cat Robey.

What Is It About?

Following the journey of one young female refugee as she travels in search of safety as her home country falls into the chaos of war, this solo performance showcases the struggles over 25 million people worldwide are currently facing. This non linear plot explores the snapshot recollections of this unnamed woman’s life, from the conception of her son to the horrors of an overcrowded boat crossing the open sea.

How Did It Make Me Feel?

The refugee crisis is an extremely broad and complex subject for any play to address. For many, the experiences of refugees seem almost unimaginable - the indignity, the threat of death, the complete overturning of one’s life. It is a terrifying reality for millions of people across the world displaced from their homes because of war, persecution or natural disasters. It is, undoubtedly, a challenge for any theatre maker to produce a piece that can reflect or encapsulate the magnitude and nuance of the refugee experience, and despite the best intentions of this show, On Arriving doesn’t quite manage to hit home with the emotional impact of its subject matter.

Though the structure reflects the way in which we recall memory - often out of sequence and in bursts of vivid reminiscence - this narrative choice often leaves some confusion as to where we are in the show’s only character’s story, both geographically and chronologically. As such, it makes it difficult to connect with the character as the audience are left questioning what has happened to her rather than allowing us the space to scrutinise the emotional context of her situation. Indeed, as she speaks out against the morbid curiosity of aid workers, there is an irony in the fact that the audience are left wanting to know the answers to the questions she herself scorns.

Sophia Eleni gives a measured performance as this unnamed young woman, but there is a restrained nature to her delivery. Her narrative is, for the most part, unremittingly appalling, with family members perishing around her and the violence of her war torn home only matched by the horrors of her journey, but there is a lack of grounding to Eleni’s expression of her character’s unimaginable pain. Her performance lacks the unbridled rawness or the numb disassociation of this woman’s trauma. Yet, there are moments where her skills as a performer shine through - often during the light hearted recollections of her domestic life.

This is a show, whilst commendable in bringing an important human experience into the spotlight, does not achieve the pathos it should.

Anything Else?

Though the refugee crisis is a topic deserving of a wider platform, the intensity of On Arriving’s narrative somewhat drowns out the nuances and details that are needed to hook an audience and thus have a lasting impact.

Alexandra x

On Arriving is playing in the Pit, Vault Festival until the 9th February 2020.

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