Monday, 10 July 2017

Review The Scar Test


The Scar Test
by Hannah Khalil

The Need To Know
http://www.sohotheatre.com/

Go on to the official Yarl's Wood website and you'll find many glossy photos of smiling women. The name Yarl's Wood and a logo of "Respect, Support, Commitment. That's our promise" are in large letters. While the words Immigration Removal Centre are in much smaller black letters.

Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire is one of 11 removal centres in the UK, outsourced by the Home Office to private security firms.  Here asylum seekers, migrants and the stateless are detained before release or deportation when their status is clarified..

The Scar Test, a new play by Hannah Khalil, is a reflection of life in a detention centre which has been touring since its premiere in Bedford earlier this year and now arrives at the Soho Theatre.

Based on verbatim interviews and research at Yarl's Wood by the playwright, The Scar Test seeks to initiate the audience into the often disturbing world of deportation centres, a nexus of conflicting interests in which the inmates find themselves caught up.

At the same time, The Scar Test also aims to bring home the normalness of the unnamed women who find themselves, through no fault of their own, under lock and key and constant surveillance.

This is one time when the ticking off  of issues within a drama seems thoroughly justified. Indeed a question mark hangs over the true circumstances when the battle over how to portray the situation of those within the centres is fought in newspapers such as the Daily Mail and The Guardian.

This is a stripped back touring production with minimal staging and the versatile cast of five female actors play many more characters, both male and female.

We progress through the female detainees and the male and female guards to the volunteer visitors who befriend the inmates, the distant doctor whose appointments are strictly rationed and the duty solicitor grappling with the restrictions of the unwieldy appeal process and language barriers.

There are strong performances by Janet Etuk, Nadia Nadif, Rebecca Omogbehin, Shazia Nichols and Lucy Sheen.

The best moments occur when we can follow backwards from the Centre the individual stories of the women. Zoe Spurr's lighting and Jo Walker's sound, with a mute anguished Omogbehin, for example, powerfully convey the details and trauma of an agonizing memory without words.    

But in many cases characters flash by and some of the contrasts seemed awkward rather than raw. It is also a production where the writer and director need to find and pin down the pivotal points between the abstract, and the naturalistic.

Sometimes the piece seemed compromised by the playful breaking into song and choreographed movement even if the aim was to emphasize the women's normalness and closeness to us.

It did occur to us, although the play tries to convey the disorientation of those in the detention centre twilight zone by avoiding specificities,  that projections of the buildings and rooms might bring something to the audience's experience. 

Nevertheless, even if it is dramatically erratic, The Scar Test does hand to those watching a lucid package of information within its 75 minutes and plants seeds for those who want to find out more.

We give an amber light for a drama throwing its own spotlight on human beings who have committed no crime, yet are, in some cases, indefinitely detained. 

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