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Occupied – Theatre 503, London

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

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…

Review Overview

The Public Reviews Score

As challenging as it is funny

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2 comments

  1. After more than 25
    years working professionally in the theatre in various roles I am staggered how
    productions like this get lauded. The plot is complete nonsense. The actors,
    although clearly talented, give inappropriately HUGE performances, way too big
    for the space and audience is smacked round the face with either a completely implausible
    plot or quite frankly offensive material.

    Although the main
    character is seemingly obsessed with reading the Daily Mail and is up to date
    on Kate Middleton and the joys of Argos, he has no idea what ‘Eastenders’ is. Although
    trying to learn English he is already a master of colloquialisms – ‘I thought you would be over that by now
    mate’. Another character steals some Sainsbury’s shopping but would you
    believe it this contains not supermarket food but gifts and glitzy clothing.
    HIs female friend similarly struggles with the language but knows not only the
    words but the tune of Rule Britannia and Jingle Bells. An old lady is attacked
    and there is much discussion about getting her help but miraculously someone
    has already tended to her as she has a bandage on her head. Even in Britain
    strangers do call ambulances for homeless old ladies. The side ‘plot’ of the
    bird with the broken wing/girl with the broken wing made me want to groan out
    loud. I could go on and on and on (like the play) with these stupid plot lines
    and directorial mistakes. The casting is completely awry. Two quite slender
    people are holding a much bigger person hostage and neither of them have any
    implied threat in their characters. Hard not to laugh when the slight man puts
    on the suit of the larger one and it fits him perfectly.

    Please someone tell
    the writer and director that even people who have very little do not like to
    live in squalor. In this piece of nonsense however they are happy to ‘litter
    their own’ den and throw rubbish around with abandon. Worst of all is that
    although seemingly poking fun at the Daily Mail, the play repeats the chestnut
    that Romanian’s are thieves, prostitutes and kidnappers. Shame on all involved.
    Ironically the only believable character and performance comes from Fiz Marcus
    as the most underwritten (and I suspect under-directed) character. Of course
    when I went the place was full of friends of the cast and creatives gushing
    about it. It is a mess in more ways than one. Anna Mors and Carla Grauls need a
    massive reality check.

  2. Chris Combemale

    Hi Alice,

    Thanks for your comment, I think it’s pretty clear that we disagree here! In this production I did not at all feel that the performances were too big as they were intending to present heightened characters, not a naturalistic performance. You correctly point out flaws how ‘realistic’ or ‘believable’ the plot line is but at the end of the day that’s not what I judged this piece of theatre on. It conveyed themes and messages to me while remaining engaging and entertaining for which I applauded it. Personally, I do not see theatre or even film for an accurate portrayal of life and so those ‘flaws’ did not negatively affect my judgement – I doubt you go up to a piece of art and say think that doesn’t look believable or real. Finally, I don’t see any problem with supportive friends or family!