Words by Elijah Arief
Clare Bayley’s fast paced, paranoid and stomach wrenching play The Container is the piece of theatre I chose to stream this week. The play itself was first performed in 2007 to rave reviews and can now be streamed via the Young Vic website for just under a tenner.
I cannot stress enough how much this play is a must watch. Taking place in a shipping container, the audience finds themselves with refugees escaping war and heading to England in search of a better life. At first I was wary upon the starting the play, even though it had piqued my interest I was concerned that the play would pander to performative travel tourism, or that the play would romanticise the journey of a refugee coming to England. It’s clear to see however that Bayley and the actors had done their research, and the play did the exact opposite.
There is no stage lighting bar the torches that the actors use, and this creates a horrifically tense atmosphere as we see the characters struggle to become at ease. The lighting on top of just how small the container is really brings a sense of claustrophobia, and I was weirdly grateful to be viewing the show from at home as this is a play which advertised itself as not being suitable for those with a fear of small, tight spaces. The audience are literally locked in for the entire hour that the show is performed, with the actors performing around them. This translated extremely well on the streaming platform I was viewing it from, and due to the detailed camerawork and editing, it almost felt like watching a thriller; however, the amazing directing by Tom Wright really grounded this piece into the theatre genre.
I found myself becoming tense and irritable as the characters detail just how hot, uncomfortable and hungry they are. It would’ve been easy for this to be overwritten, but Bayley’s dialogue on top of the fantastic writing keeps this heavy and intense scenes succinct and to the point. The play refuses to hold back from the brutal and deadly reality that refugees face, such as financial exploitation, false promises of sufficient food and water for their journey, and the ever-present danger of being caught, arrested, and sent back to the country you were trying to escape.
The acting in this play was superb, each character delivering an intensely emotive and intense performance which grips you until the bitter, climatic end. I could only assume just how hard acting in a tightly compact shipping container must be, with only a torch for lighting that’s often glaring and interrogative. It’s no surprise that this play has won awards at the Edinburgh Fringe and won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression award for it’s practical and emotive approach to British refugees seeking asylum. The play also did a fantastic job at highlighting the dismissive, xenophobic attitude many British people hold towards Asylum seekers and I found the piece to be an intensive theatrical political commentary.
It’s also important to note here that Bayley did not want this play to be a documentary on refugees, and she made it clear to her actors that she didn’t want them to be constantly researching but highlighted the importance of these stories being told. Furthermore, Bayley received backing from Amnesty International to put this play on, and it won the Scotsman Fringe First Award. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for people to watch this piece. Not only is it unique, innovative and extremely hard hitting, it’s also extremely easy to stream online due to the high quality of the camera work and editing. Seriously, this is a must watch.
To donate to Amnesty International in order to help refugees please check out their website at www.amnesty.org and you can also check out the Brighton based Hummingbird Project which seeks to help and provide support for Brighton based refugees at www.hummingbirdproject.co.uk.
You can watch The Container here: https://www.digitaltheatre.com/consumer/production/the-container
Picture Credits: IPL Management: https://iplport.com/ sourced from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20_Foot_Shipping_Container_Storage_Yard.jpg