Don’t Look Away
Reviewed – 8th May 2019
“From exposing the realities faced by asylum seekers to prompting us into self-interrogation, Chapman has created a show firmly rooted in compassion”
The refugee crisis has been a constant in the public consciousness for many years; predictably, it has now become a mainstay in the arts. High profile plays like The Jungle have given us access to personal stories that are all too often lost in the midst of statistics and fleeting front pages.
Grace Chapman’s Don’t Look Away is the latest addition to the genre. The personal story in question is that of Adnan, an eighteen year old boy seeking asylum in the UK. His journey from Aleppo to Bradford was 4500 miles long: much to his dismay, it isn’t even close to being over.
But Adnan is not our protagonist. That would be Cath: the cleaning lady who takes him in on his first night in the country and becomes gradually all the more involved in his story. The Home Office aside, the play’s antagonist is Jamie, Cath’s entitled son, who feels confused and threatened by his mother’s investment in Adnan’s life.
Chapman was inspired to write the play after members of her family began housing asylum seekers. Whilst she may simply have sought to write about her own experiences, she simultaneously found an interesting way to re-tell and re-interrogate an oft-told story. She exposes the stark reality of seeking asylum, the ways in which the system is stacked against Adnan in unimaginable ways. It also explores the ways in which we as individuals respond to global crises. Jamie believes that Cath is in over her head, but Cath strives to do more. It is interesting to consider her motivations for doing so: despite the fact that her actions are genuine, she seems to be using this situation to compensate for the lost connection between herself and Jamie. The interplay between Cath the failed mother and Cath the determined friend makes her a well-rounded character, saving her from becoming the dreaded White Saviour. All three characters leap off the page with force. Julia Barrie attentively explores Cath’s fragility in addition to her resilience, whilst Brian Fletcher is nicely detestable as Jamie. Robert Hannouch is bold and charismatic as Adnan, full of hope and energy that makes him a pleasure to watch.
For me the flaws in this production come from its staging. The movement sequences (save the one at the beginning) add little and feel clunky, fracturing the play’s tight structure for no good reason. The translucent curtain at the back of the set takes away from the overall sparseness; I wish it was used in more creative and expressive ways. The ending does feel somewhat unbelievable, which is a shame as it undercuts the subtlety of the preceding scenes. These are quite minor problems, yet they do inhibit the production in significant and unavoidable ways.
Don’t Look Away isn’t the perfect play, yet it is undoubtedly important. From exposing the realities faced by asylum seekers to prompting us into self-interrogation, Chapman has created a show firmly rooted in compassion.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by Ryan Cowan
Don’t Look Away
Pleasance Theatre until 18th May
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: