Director Sophie Besse, visiting the “Jungle” camp in Calais last year, was inspired to devise a comedy together with refugees. The resilience and playfulness of the people there amazed her, a complete mismatch with the dehumanised misery portrayed by the mainstream UK media. Amazingly, Besse has pulled it off: a genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy performed by a cast of refugees in five different languages. The finished piece already had a hit outing last year, and it’s back again by popular demand.
The 55-minute ensemble piece satirises the Jungle from top to bottom, even the guitar-strumming British volunteer with deep feelings (“It’s just like Glastonbury!”). Refugees laugh in lit-up, makeshift tents, singing songs. There is almost no set to this zero-budget production, but the stage is strewn with shoes, to which more are added, relentlessly, as the action unfolds.
The acting is disappointingly not good, but it doesn’t really matter. Laurel-and-Hardy-esque humour abounds, no clearer than in a skit where a searchlight weaves around the auditorium and catches on a grimacing group of secret escapees. Actors play dogs and electricity generators to comic effect. A scene with “The Jungle Fashion Show” incorporates a catwalk with cross-dressing and pouting, which appears to be a hit with the audience – it is panto season after all.
The show starts very boringly and humourlessly: five minutes of each actor slowly coming in and taking off their shoes and socks. The actors then perform with bare feet for the remaining fifty minutes. The show has also been directed end-on and does not suit the thrust stage of the Cockpit Theatre. A fairly unenthusiastic Q&A follows immediately after the play, which lasts another 30 minutes. However, these are all minor gripes. It is a remarkable way to literally put refugees centre stage, and an amazing achievement to make a devised piece that is so funny and well-observed, but also moving when it needs to be. Come and be challenged, and chat to the cast in he bar afterwards.