Phosphoros Theatre is fighting back. For actors Tewodros, Syed, Emirjon and Goitom, their very existences depended on such a story: that of where they came from, and why they left it. Leaving behind Eritrea, Afghanistan and Albania, travelling to the UK – these sole threads in the tapestry of four entire lives eclipse the whole. They have been repeated like mantras to the Home Office; to social workers; to volunteers in refugee camps, all in the hope that one of these parties would listen. In doing so, identity – constructed from building blocks of family life, childhood, history in a particular place – dissolves. Who are you, without those markers?
Identity, direction, purpose all emanate from the performers, standing on stage behind the wooden counter of a pizza shop. These were four boys who arrived separately in the UK, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Now, they’re here to make sure the stories they tried so hard to communicate on that journey are heard at last. In 45 minutes, we are taken through a pastiche of their four lives; past, present and future journeys are stitched together by comedy and human warmth before our eyes. In the play’s most comedic moments – and there are many – laughter’s invisible bonds bring the audience closer to the charismatic men on stage and to an understanding of their experiences.
At times, we see ourselves at a remove: parcelled through a newcomer’s gaze. Stereotypes of UK life are written on pizza boxes to be wittily unpacked – “don’t give up your seat for people on public transport, they will think you are rude” – and the tables turn. Who’s the alien? Well, who’s asking? Shouting as loudly as a protester’s placard, the four presences on stage feel subversive – revolutionary, even – as the play’s temporality flicks back and forth. Early life (innocence), journey of horrors (shattered), into the UK pizza shop (life, now), conversations about children yet to arrive (life, soon?). This rejection of linearity puts the actors in control – their stories will unfold when they decide to disclose them.