Toronto’s Theatre Fix stages an immersive show about refugees inside a shipping container
A year ago the world was collectively stunned by the image of Alan Kurdi, a young Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on a beach after he drowned in the Mediterranean sea as his family attempted the perilous crossing to seek asylum in Europe. It took that shocking photo to humanize the millions of refugees worldwide enough for the world to finally take notice.
The Container, a remount of a production presented at the 2014 SummerWorks festival, is a stark, gripping, immersive show staged in an actual 20-foot shipping container. The play sheds light on the stories of the people who risk their lives on these dangerous migration routes.
There are currently over 60 million people around the world displaced from their homes. That’s the highest number since the World War II. Most of them are fleeing persecution, poverty and war in their homelands but because of damaging deterrence policies in Western countries that remove safe, legal routes for people to seek asylum, many are forced into underground human-trafficking networks to make their journeys.
What I really loved about The Container is how it really humanizes the people who choose to take these perilous journeys. Audience members are seated inside the dark, cramped shipping container with these characters. At times the actors are mere inches away from you. You’re forced to confront these characters’ harsh realities, there’s nowhere to hide.
In that cramped container we come face to face with Fatima (Bola Aiyeola) and her daughter Asha (Ubah Guled), refugees from an unspecified African country; Ahmad (Victor Ertmanis) and Mariam (Lara Arabian) fleeing from the war in Afghanistan; Jemal (Adriano Sobretodo Jr.), a Kurdish man fleeing persecution in Turkey; and a smarmy Agent (Constantine Karzis), the trafficker responsible for leading the group on the final leg of their journey to England.
Written by British playwright Clare Bayley nearly ten years ago, the play is even more relevant a decade on. Yes, it’s theatre that explores an “issue” but Bayley does it in a way doesn’t feel didactic. The playwright eschews reductive stereotypes and pathos in favour of compelling, human drama featuring complex individuals who are flawed products of their respective circumstances and who are not always sympathetic. In other words, there’s an authenticity to the characters that makes them feel like real people instead of vehicles to deliver a moral message.
As strong as Bayley’s script is, it’s the production, helmed by director Zachary Florence, that really makes this show pop. Having seen the production at SummerWorks two years ago, I think this version is a lot tighter, the accent work has improved, the new sound design by Nick Carney really heightens the immersive aspect of the show and the moments of heightened drama come across more naturally. Throughout the show I sat stunned, at times quietly burning with rage or choking back tears.
When you make the connection that those labeled “refugees” or “migrants” are simply real people like you or me, it becomes especially dismaying that people fleeing conflict and in desperate need of asylum and compassion are othered and used as political scapegoats by right-wing politicians fear-mongering for votes. That’s perhaps the most important aspect of The Container; it’s visceral, compelling immersive theatre that gives voice to groups of people who are marginalized and de-humanized. It’s not necessarily an easy show to watch but it’s a unique experience that shouldn’t be missed.
- The Container is playing through September 18, 2016. This site-specific show is performed inside a shipping container parked behind The Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto (south of Front St. E.)
- Tickets $25 – $44; Unwaged, Student, Arts Worker and group (8+) discounts available.
- Tickets available online at canadianstage.com, in person at the Canadian Stage Box Office, 26 Berkeley Street, or by phone at 416.368.3110
Photo of Adriano Sobretodo Jr. and Lara Arabian by Lauren Posloski.