The Claim review

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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A bold interrogation of the UK's Kafka-esque asylum system

'The Claim' returns to Shoreditch Town Hall in February 2020. This review is from January 2018.

‘The Claim’ is being staged in the Large Committee Room at Shoreditch Town Hall. Whether a deliberate move or not, it’s certainly appropriate: Tim Cowbury’s three-hander is about the UK’s labyrinthine asylum system. In a minimal set of modular staging and freestanding striplights, we meet Serge (Ncuti Gatwa), a young Congolese man who’s been living in Streatham for the past 18 months. He’s with two officials: A (Nick Blakely), a translator, and B (Yusra Warsama), a decision-maker. With A interlocuting, Serge tries to put forward a case for living permanently in Britain, and to not return to a homeland where he’ll almost certainly lose his life.

The whole play is delivered in English, but it’s a testament to all three actors that it’s obvious when they’re switching between English and French. Gatwa, in particular, does a fantastic job: fiercely articulate one minute, frantically stammering the next. If the good cop/bad cop dynamic between the two apparatchiks is a little oversimplified, it reveals two different sets of problematic attitudes towards asylum seekers. A is well-intentioned but naïve, too willing to paint Serge with the victim brush; B is patient but happy to use the rulebook as her moral compass. (Warsama shines here, with her by-numbers civility and hand gestures that look like they’ve been taught in a training session.)

As their exchanges grow increasingly incoherent, the sense of Serge being mindlessly lost to the whirring cogs of bureaucracy is heart-breaking. But, by its closing stages, ‘The Claim’ moves into more nuanced damnation. That direct address to the audience is used repeatedly throughout shouldn’t go unmentioned: are we the members of a committee, ready to decide a man’s fate? It makes us check our privilege in the best possible sense: to understand, through the prism of miscommunication, that the world is an overwhelmingly relative place – and a failure to appreciate that can have life-changing consequences. When Serge tells B she’s lucky to have a passport, it’s with zero irony and zero awareness she replies: ‘No. I’m British.’

By: Matt Breen

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