The Container (The Container Collective) 2014 SummerWorks Review


The issue of human smuggling surfaces in our collective conscience once in a while if a particularly horrific news story breaks when a boat load of refugees sinks or a shipping container full of dead would-be migrants is discovered. We wonder what kind of desperation would compel these people to pay smugglers exorbitant amounts of money to make such a perilous journey. The Container, a site-specific play staged inside an actual shipping container in Toronto as part of this year’s SummerWorks Festival shines a light on the stories of these individuals.

According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2013, 51.2 million individuals were forcibly displaced around the world due to persecution, conflict or violence. The UN also estimates that human smuggling is one of the most lucrative criminal activities worldwide. The statistics are staggering but the numbers are completely abstract. What the statistics obscure is the fact that each one of those individuals is a real flesh-and-blood person with a story.

A collective of artists lead by producer Sabrina A Bandali is mounting this Canadian premiere production of British playwright Clare Bayley’s script and, in what is some of the most effective use of site-specific immersive theatre I’ve seen, they stage the show inside a standard-sized 20-foot shipping container that seats fewer than 20 audience members per performance.

It’s a cramped, stuffy, claustrophobic space designed to make the audience feel uncomfortable. We put up with it for the 60-minute performance but it’s a harrowing thought that people are actually smuggled inside similar shipping containers and endure it for days or weeks.

Bayley’s script is not narrative-driven and there are few moralizing speeches pontificating on the politics of human migration. Instead, the playwright goes for a gritty, realistic portrayal of five characters; Fatima (Bola Aiyeola) and Asha (Ubah Guled), a mother and child from an unspecified war-torn African country; Ahmad (Sugith Varughese) a “business man” and Mariam (Lara Arabian), a young woman, from Afghanistan; and Jemal (Adriano Sobretodo Jr.), a Kurd from Turkey.

Each character has their own flaws and their individual motivations for risking everything to make the dangerous journey across Europe in the hopes of a better life. The Container is incredibly humanizing, it confronts us with stories of the people behind the statistics.

Director Zachary Florence makes great use of the limited performance space; his choice to have the five characters constantly mingle with the seated audience allows each audience member a proximity to the performance that magnifies the emotional gravity of the piece. Being so close to the characters we feel their fear, their desperation, their hopes and their heartache.

The Container is a gripping, raw and emotional experience. It’s thought-provoking political theatre that doesn’t proselytize. It simply shows us the face of human trafficking and allows us to draw our own conclusions. Snatch one of the few remaining seats in this container while you still can.


The Container is a Site Specific show performed inside a shipping container located behind The Theatre Centre Backlot (1115 Queen Street West)

Show times:

Friday August 15, 5:00pm
Friday August 15, 7:30pm
Saturday August 16, 5:00pm
Saturday August 16, 7:30pm
Sunday August 17, 5:00pm
Sunday August 17, 7:30pm

All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at, By phone by calling the Ticketwise Call Centre at 416-907-0468, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows

Photo of Adriano Sobretodo Jr. and Lara Arabian by Lauren Posloski