Juana stands in the immigration queue at Heathrow and silently coaches herself through her answers. What’s your reason for visiting the UK? Holidays. Buckingham Palace. ‘Billy Elliot’. Fish and chips. No, too much; just holidays.
Actually, she’s fleeing her home in Mexico in search of a better life, free from the corruption and lawlessness that has left her family poor and her boyfriend dead. Her mother warns her not to go; that she’ll end up selling her body. And that’s exactly what happens. No-one forces Juana into it. She just has no other option.
Without the necessary papers, Juana can’t reach the first rung of the ladder. No matter how devotedly and honestly she throws herself into soulless jobs, Juana always ends up exploited. She’s fired without pay for complaining about sexual harassment. She’s swindled by a dodgy job agency. Without money, she loses her lodgings – one of three shared beds in a seven-person dorm. What else can she do but marry into citizenship?
Writer Vicky Araico Casas performs with an extraordinary physical fluidity, making storytelling seem a salsa dance. She conjures a range of characters with simple precision and segues from Mexico’s whirling abandon – nicely supported by Adam Pleeth’s live mariachi soundtrack – to the mundanity of Juana’s life in London.
For all its humane credentials, however, Juana’s story is too easily shrugged off. Araico Casas pins blame on colonial pillaging, but never manages to accuse her audience of direct complicity.
By Matt Trueman