In a year that’s seen issues of asylum, national identity and the experience of immigrants discussed in pieces of theatre such as Testing the Echo and The Pearlfisher, it would seem that Abi Morgan’s new play, Fugee, sets itself a challenge from the offset in a bid to cover fresh ground on a subject that has quickly become the focus point for political theatre. A venture that both cast and play achieve with refreshing ability.
In it we meet Kojo (Danny Miller), an unaccompanied fourteen year old from the Cote d’Ivorie whose arrival into the UK sees him picked up and packed off by the authorities to a refuge centre for underage asylum seekers.
Although separated by language, the centre’s young cohabitants are united by their shared experience, one that soon brings about a blossoming relationship for Kojo and Iranian Ara (Natalie Mackinnon). But without official papers Kojo’s age is left up to the speculation of asylum officials as cracks in the system begin to appear and the glimmer of a more secure existence becomes tarnished by grim misfortune.
With a reputation for cultivating young talent, the Lyceum Youth Theatre cast is once again studded with promising turns. Miller confidently carries the narration of the piece whilst managing to tease out, for the most part, the psychological fragility of the understandably damaged Kojo.
It is Mackinnon however, whose deftly understated performance encapsulates the abhorrent isolation and desperation felt by the young people that makes the piece all the more emotive.
While there are a few lacklustre moments of stilted action and monotonous dialogue, Xana Maclean’s tightly constructed direction reigns over the large ensemble cast allowing for a fluid continuity between scenes. At the same time, Tom Zwitserlood and David Marwick’s carefully compiled sound design peppers scenes with apt tracks that bounce between the upbeat sounds of London youth culture to more minimal, atmospheric numbers.
Unlike similar pieces of theatre, Fugee successfully manages to take a universal issue and tell it through one individual’s experience in a way that is refined, compelling and at times disturbingly close to the bone.
It’s a shame then, that such an informative piece of youth work isn’t given a lengthier duration or a more prominent place on the Scottish stage.
With the capability to entertain and educate to such an extent, one would hope its message is not lost amongst the swathe of doting parents that predominantly make up the audience.
Review by Mhairi MacLeod