15 April 2014

Occupied at Theatre503 looked at England questioningly through Romanian eyes

The premise of Occupied was interesting but the real reason that I went was because it was on at Theatre503 and I've liked everything that I have seen there. This was no exception.

Sadly the Latchmere pub downstairs was still closed for a major refurbishment and even sadder I forgot that it was Bring Your Own Bottle and I forgot to take my own bottle. So it was a dry evening for me.

Despite that setback I still kept my wits about me enough to claim my usual seat in the middle of the front row.

As is often the case these days, there were already some performers on stage including a Romanian woman playing songs like Rule Britannia on an accordion.

The scene was a toilet that two recently arrived Romanians, a man and a woman, had made their home. Hence the pun title "Occupied".

With them was a young Englishman whom they had kidnapped so that he could teach them about England. There was also an old Romania woman who appeared occasionally looking for drink or food before going to sleep in the corner.

If that all sounds a little weird, well it was.

The conversations between the three varied from the surreal, e.g. how to ask an English woman out for a date, to the dark, e.g. on witnessing deaths on the violent overthrow of Ceaușescu in 1989.

Through these conversations we learnt something about the three young people and, through them, something about perceptions held by others on England, Romania and the Romani.

It was something of an emotional roller-coaster with the general levity and good humour punctured by some moments of harsh reality.

Steering the way was Alex (played brilliantly by Mark Conway) who was vibrant and passionate in his wish to make something of his life in England. Andreya (Josie Dunn) followed him somewhat slavishly and Tom (Joe Marsh) tried to talk his way out of his imprisonment.

The turning point came when we learnt how Alex and Andrea first met Tom and that led to the unexpected, and unhappy, ending.

Occupied used the situation and the characters to look at immigration and the issues that surround it from different perspective but it remained a human story rather than a political polemic. There were some nice touches such as all the anti-immigrant stories that Alex had collected from the Daily Mail and stuck on the wall, the songs played by Andreya and the unusual card game that they played where cheating was an accepted feature.

There was so much going on in Occupied and on some many levels, and that that made it a thoroughly absorbing and engaging drama. It was a touching story about three people that we cared about set in the context to wider events that shape all our lives.

It was grim (set in an abandoned toilet, how could it be otherwise?) with a grim ending, and I loved every moment of it.

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