Reviewed – 9th November 2018
“it doesn’t quite probe far enough, risking becoming just another well-trodden story of one culture failing to integrate with another”
Performed as part of this year’s Voila! Europe Festival, one of the rare festivals in London that brings together British and continental European artists to create what they call a “border-busting mix of multicultural, multilingual, and multidisciplinary performance”, ‘Unbelonger’ is a clever, witty and inventive piece of physical theatre exploring ideas of identity, discrimination and – you guessed it – belonging.
Directed and devised by Finnish artist Erika Eva, the piece uses puppetry and movement to narrate one person’s struggle to feel at home in a foreign environment. What words or actions make us feel excluded, and how does this exclusion affect our own sense of personal and cultural identity? Whether it be work, school or the search for love, the cost of ‘fitting in’ can sometimes be high. To what extent can communities or groups accept ‘different’ cultures, and how could we work to interweave these cultures successfully?
Thematically, ‘Unbelonger’ asks vital and timely questions of its audience and seeing this work here just five months before Britain leaves the European Union reminds us to think more about how our national identity is formed and defined. The international cast (Janaki Gerard, Silvia Manazzone, Tongchai Hansen and Durassie Kiangangu) are energetic and their movement precise, whisking between set pieces effortlessly. Eva combines repetition and an effective use of lighting to explore how good something can look from the outside, but reveal itself to be cold and hollow when we finally get invited in. Xavier Velastin provides a thrilling, almost dystopian, synth-like score, playing it live on his own board of electronic instruments (and what looked like a joystick). Expert use of lighting highlights moments of private reflection, and some cute puppetry from Manazzone creates an intimate relationship between the self and its past.
‘Unbelonger’ is bursting with beautiful, funny set pieces, and the storytelling is clear from the start. As a sum of its parts though, it feels like it doesn’t quite probe far enough, risking becoming just another well-trodden story of one culture failing to integrate with another. It forces some uncomfortable questions nonetheless, and it is work like this that makes the Voila! Europe Festival such a thrilling and necessary part of London theatre.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Cockpit Theatre until 12th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: