Based on the real story of a stowaway dying and falling from a Dubai plane as it came in to land in London, Analogue Theatre brings Stowaway, a politically charged and probing piece about family, home, inequality and hope. Here, storytelling is a political act.
Immigration is a ‘hot topic’ at the moment. With the current refugee crisis unfolding throughout Europe, it seems to be something more and more people are thinking about. Analogue Theatre’s aim was to bring this discussion into theatre, not just keeping it in the realm of newspapers and politicians. Analogue formed in 2007 to make ambitious new theatre inspired by real stories and contemporary ethical questions.
This is clear with their new piece, Stowaway. Written and directed by Hannah Barker and Lewis Hetherington, the piece is physical and immediate and creates something tangible out of an issue which many feel helpless or ignorant about. Stowaway was born in 2008 when Barker and Hetherington read an article from a couple of years earlier about refugees and society. Showing all sides of the story, the piece tells the story of a man aspiring to do great things, how inequalities and the outrageous treatment of many people globally eventually led to tragedy, and investigates the reactions of those who’s lives he has touched.
The piece takes some time to get going. What is initially most striking about Stowaway is the physicality of the performers, and for the first half it is sometimes hard to engage with the narrative due to the slick and perfectly timed choreographed movements of Steven Rae, Balvinder Sopal, Hannah Donaldson, and Devesh Kishore. Against the bare and industrial set, their work was both compelling and humanised their characters. The ‘stripped back’ nature of the set allowed for us to fully take in movement, and added contrast to the physical work. In the post-show discussion, it was said that the set designer, Rhys Jarman, has been working with the set as the tour continues; as Hetherington stated, changing and “hacking bits off” it. This added to the tangible nature of Stowaway – it’s always evolving, much like the global situation outside of the theatre.
That being said, it was hard to fully invest in the characters for the first part of the piece, until the emotions and stories became more interweaved and complex. This perhaps has something to do with the scale of the issue Stowaway was discussing. It is hard to tell whether our initial disengagement with the character was a point in itself – the refugee crisis is something which is hard to comprehend or empathise with, and perhaps audience unease disconnectedness is simply a reflection of this general attitude.
However, it would be unfair of me to say that it was not a grabbing piece. By the end of the production, we were hooked. It could be that, aside from the political message underpinning the plot, this is what is most impressive about Analogue’s work – it is never showy nor over the top, and to some extent ‘sneaks up on you’; before you know it, you are gripped.
Fundamentally, though, Stowaway has a political message. Theatre is supposed to offer up alternative perspectives on the world around you, and make you question both your own and others behaviour. Stowaway does this. By showing the whole spectrum of emotions and attitudes surrounding the refugee crisis, a mirror is held up to the audience, and we are forced to question and, at points, adjust our way of thinking, in the light of this reflection. Analogue must be applauded for the subtle skill with which they do this.
The story of the stowaway has stayed with me since the performance. Go and see it, and let it stay with you too.
Analogue are touring Stowaway throughout the UK until mid-May.