Don't Look Away presented by NOVAE theatre (pleasance.co.uk)
In the city of Bradford Adnan, a Syrian refugee stumbles upon a lit building in which he finds Cath, the community centre cleaner. Although not receiving the warm welcome Adnan may have expected after finally making it out of Calais and into the UK, Cath and Adnan soon find themselves entangled in each other’s lives.
When Adnan returns to Cath’s house to repay the £4 he owes her, Cath soon empathises with him and invites him to stay in her estranged son Jamie’s room. However, when Jamie decides to return home and take back his room tensions in the house rise as Jamie is not only fighting for his room but for the attention of his mother. Though Cath is thrilled at the prospect of reconciling with her son Jamie’s unexpected arrival leaves Cath stretched well beyond her means, providing support and guidance for Adnan whilst trying to ensure her son doesn’t leave her again.
Writer Grace Chapman was inspired to write this play after her family began hosting asylum seekers in their home and by the case of Rob Lawrie, the former soldier arrested at the Calais border trying to smuggle a child refugee in his van. This play not only depicts the very real danger and vulnerability refugees face when trying to make it into the UK but more so shows us what happens upon their arrival and the impact felt by the community they settle in.
Jamie though young and often selfish really doesn’t understand what Adnan has gone through to get here and the struggles he still faces. Jamie’s character represents those with a genuine fear of refugees that we see across Europe, viewing Adnan as a threat to his home, his finances and the attention of his mother. However, when learning about Adnan’s sister still in Calais you see a softening as his empathy for Adnan grows and a real internal conflict burns within him, a beautiful moment from actor Brian Fletcher. This play really shows how far a mother’s love will go with Cath hollowing herself out in an attempt to save Adnan and his sister whilst struggling to make space for her son and reconcile the damage of their past.
Director Nicholas Pitt did a wonderful job of keeping the audience engaged, with a play that is set in only one room and a continuous back and forth between characters the play runs the risk of becoming stagnant. However, aided by the movement direction of Dan Canham and lighting of Greg Cebula the air in the space was lifted with beautiful transitions and lighting states foreboding the future.