The Jungle Critics & Reviews
Critics rating: *****Review by
: Will Longman
It is so easy to feel disconnected from the world when we experience it from such a distance, watching the news on screens and scrolling through tweets simply exacerbates the sense that the world has no effect on you, nor you on it. A watershed moment during the European refugee crisis in 2015 was the photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose drowned body washed up on a beach. It shocked the world and humanised the topic. Joes Murphy and Robertson’s vital play The Jungle also does just that, giving a voice and a story to a handful of the thousands of migrants who lived in the infamous Calais camp.
Informed by their experiences from running a theatre at the camp, the two young playwrights have chronicled the desperate, hopeful stories of the camp’s residents in what is a thoroughly affecting piece of theatre.
It’s West End theatre like you’ve never seen; the Playhouse has been completely remodelled to replicate the immersive set of the original Young Vic production last year. The stalls have become the café of Afghan refugee Salar (a temperate Ben Turner), the seats replaced with cushions and benches at which we some are served soup, rice and beans.
From the academics escaping violence in Aleppo to children fleeing for a better life, Murphy and Robertson expertly craft each emotive story, reminding you of this tragic reality. Running across motorways, hiding in railway tunnels, trekking across deserts just for the possibility of a better life.
There is also a conflict of culture. There are clashes in politics between mostly proud men from across the Middle East, but it also culminates in an explosion of hope, dance and song - including a couple of rousing renditions of “Glory, Glory Man United”. It may seem trivial to point out, but it’s perhaps the trivial details like this which remind you how focussed on getting to the UK these people really are. They are willing to risk their freedoms and their lives night after night to break into the back of a lorry and at the very least try for a better life. It’s unfathomable.
Stephen Daldry’s relentless production manages to make you like a helpless onlooker at the camp. The action takes place all around Miriam Buether’s incredibly authentic set, with actors weaving in and out of the audience, but there are more theatrical moments, like an intense monologue from Okot (a superb John Pfumojena), one refugee who tells us why he tries to cross the Channel to Britain every single night.
The play also highlights the role of the (mostly) insufferably middle-class English volunteers who felt they ‘just had to do something’. While at first it seems like they simply wanted another feather in their cap – like Sam, the Eton student who sees the camp as an excellent opportunity for a housing project. But to be fair, all five stick around for months and their urgency about the crisis is clear. (And an awkward Alex Lawther as Sam cements his place as one of the most exciting young talents around.)
While every effort has been made to recreate the set for the Young Vic, there is an addition: the dress circle has been opened up and renamed the ‘Cliffs of Dover’. They loom over the action with two screens relaying some of the action live. Just like many of us during the actual events, they are so close to the action, but never quite as involved.
Robertson and Murphy do well to avoid the play coming across as preachy, they let the audience feel by simply telling the story. This does stray slightly towards the end as the audience is played a clip from a volunteer currently working in Calais, but even so, it goes to prove just how current this issue still is, and why you need to see this play now.The Guardian *****The Jungle review – vital drama of hope and despair at the Calais campPlayhouse theatre, London
This vivid recreation of life in the sprawling refugee camp is a priceless piece of theatre that enlarges our understanding while appealing to our emotions.
This is that rare thing: a necessary piece of theatre. It is the work of Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, who created Good Chance theatre in the refugee camp at Sangatte, Calais, that became known as the Jungle. It not only offers, in a superb production by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, a vivid recreation of lived experience but leaves you pondering how the world should address what is seen as the migrant crisis.
First seen at the Young Vic last year, the production has moved into the West End of London with its vital organs intact. Miriam Buether’s design transforms the stalls of this jewel-like theatre into the camp’s Afghan Cafe, where we sit round long, rough tables that become walkways for the actors. While the space seethes with activity, there is also a clear shape to the play. Starting with a funeral and the threatened eviction of the camp’s inhabitants in October 2016, it goes back in time to trace the site’s growth over 18 months. We see how a random, multinational mix of refugees turns into a town of more than 6,000 citizens living with a daily sense of hope and desperation.
The whole play is built around a shrewd balance of opposites. Optimism is embodied in the personality of Safi, a former literature student from Aleppo, Syria, who finds in the camp “more hope than you’ve seen in all lifetimes”. That is offset by the harrowing memories of 17-year-old Okot, who has made the tortuous journey from Darfur, Sudan, and who declares “a refugee dies many times”. It is a sign of the play’s careful structure that these two are left to compete for a place in a smuggler’s lorry, where possession of an onion, to deter guard dogs, is the only guarantee of survival.
Murphy and Robertson create a series of mounting contradictions. Salar’s Afghan Cafe, given a four-star review by AA Gill, represents the human capacity for resilience: meanwhile one of Salar’s compatriots constantly complains about inadequate sanitation. The presence of voluntary UK helpers also provokes wildly different reactions: initially resented as interlopers, their efforts in home-building, childcare and education are, in the end, gladly received. But the biggest conflict of all comes in the fierce internal debate over whether to accept a French offer of relocation or fight to preserve the existing, self-made community.
If I was overwhelmed by the play, it is because it raises a host of issues and because the production itself seems a mix of the structured and the spontaneous: the evening blends order and chaos, reflections and rants, songs and scuffles in astonishing profusion. It is also powerfully performed. Ammar Haj Ahmad (Safi), John Pfumojena (Okot), Ben Turner (Salar) speak for the camp’s occupants; Alex Lawther (an Etonian posh boy), Rachel Redford (a teenage teacher), Jo McInnes (a free-swearing child protector) for the volunteers. The result is one of those priceless evenings that enlarges our understanding while appealing to our emotions.By :
Michael BillingtonRef Link : The Guardian TIME OUT SAYS ***This smash drama about the Calais Jungle is powerful but not without its problems
AA Gill reviewed Salar's Afghan Restaurant in the Calais Jungle. He gave it four stars – apparently the chicken livers were a delight. This little nugget of information feels deeply ironic when it pops up in this immersive show – which has transferred from the Young Vic and now fills a West End venue with a meticulous recreation of the restaurant, and its place at the heart of refugee camp life. Paying audiences sit at long benches, sip chai tea and get swept up in the fraught energy and unlikely joys of life in the now-demolished refugee encampment.
Is it voyeuristic? Yes. But it's also an intelligent satire of how the Calais Jungle became, for its year in existence, a kind of repository for the utopian scheming, hapless curiosity, adventurous instincts and need for escape of the many British people who flocked there to ‘help’.
Directors Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin create a vivid sense of all the communities living side by side in this small, densely-inhabited patch of French ground, all narrated by wise, accidental leader Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad).
There's Salar and his restaurant, a recreation of his beloved lost business in Kabul. A gaggle of teenage boys who spend their nights (like everyone else in the camp) trying desperately to stow away in a car or lorry to cross the border, and their days at an English school run by Beth, a well-meaning 18-year-old from the Home Counties. Eritrean Christians - who run both a chapel, and a nightclub where British volunteers get sloshed. And the brattish, but terrifyingly efficient Sam (Alex Lawther), who spends every waking hour mapping the site and building houses: the colonial resonances aren't lost in co-authors Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson's intricate, knowing play.
Not to be that person, but I did – in between the exhilarating scenes of fevered dancing, singing and drumming, in between the desperate factional squabbles and tense struggles and heartbreaking stories – feel a level of discomfort with the fact that this whole spectacle was engineered by two white writers, and two white directors. It's a show that zooms in on British people’s flawed attempts to make sense of a crisis that’s at least partly of their own government’s making. But it also uses mawkish devices that feel calculated to get a British audience to react in a certain way. Like the singing of carols, and ‘Jerusalem’, the explication-heavy passages where refugees tell white volunteers about their experiences, and the often-mawkish use of a cute little girl refugee to hammer the pathos home.
It's a show that centres universality over difference and foreignness. Like a restaurant does, I guess, by bringing different cultures to the same table. Where ‘The Jungle’ shines is in showing the clash of world-building optimism and utter desperation behind this contested, now lost patch of Calais: but perhaps its determined comprehensiveness means that these refugees’ individual, painful narratives are blurred into one cry of pain.BY:
ALICE SAVILLERef Link
: Time Out
Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5DE
VIEW SEATING PLAN
Address: Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5DE
Designed by Blow and Billerey in 1907 after the original theatre was destroyed. The Theatre is currently owned by Ambassador Theatre Group.
The theatre was initiated in 1882 by Sefton Parry, a speculative theatre builder, who bought the site hoping it would have to be purchased from him by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway Company, whose terminus was alongside. The Royal Avenue Theatre opened on 11 March 1882 with a revival of Offenbach's Madam Favart. The prefix Royal was soon dropped from the theatre's name, but comic operas, burlesques and the like remained the staple fare for several years. For much of this time, Arthur Roberts, a popular star of the music halls, led the company at the Avenue.
In the early 1890s the emphasis changed to drama and in 1894 Miss Horniman, the tea heiress, later a pioneer of the repertory movement, anonymously sponsored the actress Florence Farr in a season of plays. Sadly, the first production failed but Miss Farr persuaded her friend, a certain George Bernard Shaw, to finish his play, Arms and the Man, as a speedy replacement and his first West End production. It was successful enough to allow him to drop his music criticism in favour of play writing.
The theatre was rebuilt in 1905 to the designs of Blow & Billerey. During the work, part of the roof of the adjacent Charing Cross railway station collapsed. The roof and girders fell across the train lines but part of the stations western wall also fell and crashed through the roof and wall of the theatre. This resulted in the deaths of three people in the station, and three workmen who working on the site of theatre and injured many more. The theatre was repaired and re-opened as the Playhouse Theatre on 28th January 1907 with a one act play called The Drums of Oudh and a play called Toddles, by Tristan Bernard and Andre Godfernaux.
Since then, the beautiful Playhouse has hosted the likes of WS Gilbert, legendary actress-manager Gladys Cooper, the BBC, The Almeida Theatre Company, The Peter Hall Company, and Janet McTeer. In January 2003, Maidstone Productions became the new independent owners of the Theatre. Maidstone Productions, belonging to London and Broadway producers Ted and Norman Tulchin, has been behind a string of hit productions on both sides of the Atlantic, including Gagarin Way, Eden and Vincent in Brixton in the West End; Yazmina Reza's The Unexpected Man, as well as Donald Margulies' Dinner with Friends, which won the Pulitzer Prize. This was in addition to Turgenev's Fortune's Fool on Broadway, starring Alan Bates and Frank Langella, both winning Tony Awards for best actor and best supporting actor.
The Ambassador Theatre Group have maintained stewardship of the Playhouse Theatre since 2003 and have recently acquired 100% ownership from it’s partners Maidstone Productions. Recent productions include Richard Eyre's production Vincent in Brixton starring Clare Higgins and Journey's End directed by David Grindley. The theatre has most recently been home to La Cage Aux Folles, Dreamboats & Petticoats, The Mystery of Charles Dickens - Simon Callow’s one man show. The Playhouse is currently home to ATG’s hugely successful production of Monty Python’s Spamalot by Eric Idle, which has starred Marcus Brigstocke, Jon Culshaw and Stephen Tompkinson, Warwick Davis, Les Dennis and most recently BBC’s Dick and Dom.
Access description: Level access through double doors opening outwards from the pavement. Box Office on the left, then 3 shallow steps up to foyer. No further steps into Stalls seating. 28 steps up to Dress Circle and 82 steps up to Upper Circle. Staircases have highlights and hand rails. Hard flooring in foyer for wheelchairs. Theatre opens 30min before performance.
Sound Amplification: Induction loop system at Box Office. Infra-red system in auditorium. 11 headsets and 3 loops.
Guide Dogs: Guide dogs are allowed inside the auditorium. Staff also available to dog-sit in foyer or Box Office.
Disabled Access: Contact the Box Office in advance so that the ramp (steep) can be placed over the 3 shallow steps inside the main entrance. No steps to the Stalls, which are on a shallow rake. 2 spaces for wheelchair users at G1 and G24. Companions can sit in same row. Scooter users can access the foyer and stalls, but must transfer. Transfer seating available to any Stalls aisle seat. Each wheelchair user must bring a non-disabled companion.
Toilets: Toilets off the restaurant bar, the Royal Circle and the Upper Circle.
Disabled Toilets: Adapted toilet in foyer to the right of the Stalls entrance.
Facilities At Playhouse Theatre
Seat plan: Playhouse Theatre Seat Plan
Facilities: Air conditioned
Infrared hearing loop
Nearest tube: Embankment
Tube lines: District, Bakerloo, Northern, Circle
Location: West End
Railway station: Charing Cross
Bus numbers: (Whitehall) 3, 12, 24, 53, 88, 91, 159, 453; (Strand) 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 23, 29, 87, 139, 176
Night bus numbers: (Whitehall) 12, 53, 88, 159, 453, N2, N3, N5, N18, N20, N44, N52, N91, N97, N109, N136, N381; (Strand) 6, 23, 139, 176, N9, N11, N13, N15, N21, N26, N29, N47, N87, N89, N155, N343, N550, N551
Car park: Trafalgar (10mins)
Within congestion zone?: Yes
Directions from tube: (2mins) Follow Embankment Place right under the bridge; turn right onto Northumberland Avenue and you’ll see the theatre.