Theatre Fit for Purpose

Watching Royal Court young writer Catherine O'Shea's new play, Adam Elliott-Cooper is confronted with the most unsettling aspects of how the British state polices its borders.

New in Ceasefire, Theatre - Posted on Friday, July 22, 2011 0:00 - 0 Comments

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Adam Elliott-Cooper

In Catherine O’Shea’s Fit for Purpose, an all-female cast tells the story of Aruna and her 13 year old daughter. They are asylum seekers from Somalia who endure the arduous journey across land and sea to Britain, only to be imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in the midst of a hunger strike.

The border patrols, impatient legal representatives, and guards in the detention centre interact with the migrants with contempt and dismissal. But this is not simply superficial racist name-calling – there are hints of the way state security, and colonial legacies, are involved.

As the story progresses, we learn more of the physical and psychological trauma faced by the migrants at every juncture. With simple but effective props and lighting, and the powerful account of Aruna, it is impossible not to feel compassion for the protagonists and anger at the arms of the British state which they are up against.

Yet O’Shea is careful not to romanticise life outside the detention centre. She brings a womens’ group to portray the ongoing resistance to the repression of asylum seekers. With the backdrop of a hunger strike, rebellion is omnipresent. But the most potent and moving confrontation is not physical but emotional trauma, sensitively conveyed.

Fit for Purpose is to be commended for its willingness to confront us with the most unsettling aspects of how the British state polices its borders. And the narrative, despite this, is subtle: unravelling stories at a pace which creeps up on you.

The play is an uncompromising story of oppression, anguish and resistance. We are left with questions we should be asking ourselves about our complicity in the institutional subjugation that is portrayed.

Fit for Purpose is showing in Edinburgh this August.

Adam Elliott-Cooper, a writer and activist, is Ceasefire associate editor. His column on race politics appears every other Sunday.

http://ecdn.org/2011/06/04/new-edinburgh-festival-family-detention-drama-in-london-preview/
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