Writer: Carla Grauls
Director: Anna Mors
Reviewer: Chris Combemale
“We are making little territories in your country, a hostile take over of your garden sheds, your abandoned houses and your toilets! The occupation has begun!”
First performed at Labfest 2012, Occupied is a darkly comic insight into the complexities of immigration and brutally challenges the perception of the British public. Set in a derelict toilet at an unnamed location in central London, two homeless Romanian immigrants occupy the area in their quest for total ‘Englishness’. Out of their hunger for acceptance and belonging, they kidnap an Englishman, Tom Jones, to learn how to be English through “Sunday roasts”, “Football on a Saturday” and “drinks down the pub”. Hilarity ensues, leaving the audience in fits of laughter, so much so that focusing on the performance while chortling was challenging at times. Yet under this light and comic exterior lay a deeper, more sinister and saddening past, coming back to haunt characters who can never quite escape.
Carla Grauls London premiere of her new play certainly gets the detailed attention it deserves with designer Petra Hjortsberg delivering a worn and filthy public toilet at once heightening the humour while constantly grounding the action in an honest, humble and saddening reality. Similarly her ragged costuming reiterates the dire state of immigrants, while Muly Yechezkel’s creates a simple but effective and somewhat eerie lighting to augment the drama.
The issues are sensitive, the characters huge and the writing funny, a potent but demanding combination which Mark Conway in the lead rôle of Alex handles with great aplomb. In such an ensemble piece, his striking and standout performance is an even greater testament to his talent. Beginning with a loud and playful interpretation he quickly reveals great depth, driving the play forward and always focusing the direction of a scene. Alongside him is Josie Dunn, superb in her rôle as vulnerable Andrea, forced into a miserable state of existence as she copes with the trials of the big city.
Underpinning all of this is Joe Marsh, the quintessential Englishman Tom Jones, who spends most of the play struggling to untie his bonds. He lends a subtle edge of melancholy in a strong performance yet is let down by the writing which prompts a too rapid and unconvincing transition into the unlikely comrade of the Romanians. Despite her small rôle, Fiz Marcus as Elena brings a commanding presence to the stage as the haunting old Romanian, often terrifying as she staggers on stage. However, although the actors excel, the play seems drawn out towards the end, seeming to drag as it struggles to find a clear direction but is ultimately engaging throughout.
Performed by a brilliant cast, Occupied is as challenging as it is funny. Grauls makes a bold entrance with this London premiere.
Photo: Anna Kacprzyk
Runs until April 26th