Rocky Horror Show

The Crossing

3 June 11 words: James Walker
Three men from Ghana take a long journey in search of EUtopia in this superb play by Esther O'Toole.
Tangle is association with Nottingham Playhouse present The Crossing by Esther O’Toolea

On the day in which immigration dominated the news due to an alleged ‘amnesty of convenience,’ it was refreshing to see the other side of the story. In Esther O’Toole superb play The Crossing three Ghanaian men attempt to make the 3,000 mile journey to EUtopia. This is a journey made by tens of thousands of young African men each year and if their experiences are anything like that of Daddy (Michael Offei), Monday (Michael Kofi) and Adofo (Kwaku Boateng), then it is hard to imagine why they bother.

The reason for making this horrendous journey is because they’ve all been sold the false dream of ‘In-ger-land’, a ‘magical word’ that promises a capital city where ‘everyone has a job.’ The audience of course knows that this is not the case which only serves to make their quest more futile and frustrating. As with the ‘amnesty of convenience’, immigration is only debated by the effect it has on the host country, little is said of how capitalism has helped perpetrate this myth and in turn create the problem. We see this in the loveably optimistic Monday, who dreams of becoming a rich musician like the ones he’s seen on the TV. For the journey he’s put on his best trainers, buying into the folly of consumerism, yet it turns out that these are as fake as the celebrities he worships on screen.

The play takes place on a barren stage, draped in cloth, which is brought to life through different shades of lighting. The problem of narrating their long winding journey is cleverly remedied via a screen above the stage which plots out their path on a map through some arty animations. With such a sparse set, the success of the play was completely dependent upon the acting and narrative. In this both the cast and O’Toole excelled. It was an absolute delight to watch, easily the best theatre I’ve seen for a long time.

O’Toole’s characters are utterly believable, which may be partly due to the fact that her research is based on firsthand accounts and documentary evidence. They are strong personalities who dominate the stage, creating the impression you’ve known them for years. Quickly you begin to anticipate reactions but never in a prescribed way. For example, Monday is infectious in his exuberance. He’s completely bought into the EUtopian dream, marvelling at celebrities dousing themselves in champagne – these simplistic markers of success. Daddy on the other hand has a dry turn of phrase. He can only see wastefulness in such actions and dismisses this with teeth sucking.They may all be heading in the same direction but they are taking different personal journeys.

One thing that unites all three is the humour they are able to find in adverse situations, such as when they find themselves in the Sahara. Rather than turning to self-pity, Monday makes light of the desolation by observing, ‘I never want to go to space.’ Similarly, when Adofo is introduced to the plot he doesn’t complain about being stranded for months, instead he declares he is ‘the President of Ghana,’ in charge of a mini enclave of fifty odd men who have recreated their home country in their temporary surroundings. Such charismatic reactions bring a much needed human dimension to the debate which gets lost when people are reduced to statistics.

In some respects this technique is reminiscent of Kester Aspden’s The Tale of David Oluwale, the true story of a Nigerian refugee who came to Britain with the same kind of aspirations and hopes only to become the fatal victim of police brutality. Oluwale was a larger than life character who danced and joked and lived for the moment only to end up an alcoholic rough sleeper. In The Crossing, the characters are just as vivacious but the police are replaced by connection men. For this reason, the most touching part of the play comes when Monday finally gets a reception on his mobile phone and is informed Ghana have qualified to the next round of the World Cup. He imagines what food his mother would be making right now and how the country would be partying. But he and his fellow travellers are neither here nor there. Instead they are stuck in an awful limbo which inevitably will only end one way.

The NAE is a beautiful building to host a play and it’s great to see the NEAT festival spread out into the suburbs, as happened with the recent British Art Show. It was, however, a little difficult to see the stage from high up in the stands. This is largely because a lot of the action takes place on the floor as they acted out journeys by various forms of transport. However, the vocalisation of the cast was so powerful that they completely dominated the theatre. The NAE was formed to give a voice to African/Caribbean voices. Tonight those voices were poignant, passionate and utterly persuasive. Unlike the politicians.

The last performance of The Crossing is on Friday 3 June

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