The Royal Court’s ceaseless production line of twentysomething writing prodigies comes good once again as Brummie playwright Rachel De-lahay improves upon her 2011 debut ‘The Westbridge’ with this short, painful drama about the British immigration system.
Clocking in at barely an hour, ‘Routes’ comes across like Kafka sans surrealism, an account of bureaucratic absurdity that doesn’t hide behind absurdist humour.
It follows two young men whose established lives in Britain are thrown into jeopardy by the UK Border Agency. Somali-born, British-raised Bashir (Fiston Barek), who discovers on his eighteenth birthday that he is liable to be deported back to the country of his birth, despite never having been there in any meaningful sense; and Abiola (Seun Shote), a Nigerian prepared to go to reckless lengths to see his family in England again.
While ‘Routes’ clearly isn’t going to be a huge hit with the UKIP demographic, De-lahay’s thrust is less about the pros or otherwise of immigration as a concept, and more about the callousness that the system is capable of at its worst. Driven by an exceptionally vulnerable turn from Barek, Bashir’s story verges on the heart breaking, as the pleasant young man is bemused to find himself placed in a purgatorial immigration removal centre where he slowly starts to lose his marbles.
The writing is tender but fat free, hardened and intensified by director Simon Godwin’s no frills in the round production. And it all slots together well, the two main stories linked by the strongly drawn secondary characters of Bashir’s wayward mate Kola (Calvin Demba) and his estranged mum Lisa (Claire Lams), who encounters Abiola in the course of her work for the Border Agency. Some melodramatic shouting at the end points to the fact that De-lahay still has some maturing to do as a writer. For the most part, though, this is a big step forwards for her, a troubling drama that points to yet another sign that a sense of compassion is slowly seeping out of British society.
By Andrzej Lukowski