Set during last year’s five-week hunger strike by female asylum seekers at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, Catherine O’Shea’s new play follows a mother and daughter seeking refuge from Somalia.
Fit For Purpose raises vital issues and finds real moments of resonance, such as the heart-stopping realisation that the Somali interpreter at their asylum hearing is from a different tribe, and has no interest in helping – or even honestly reporting – the case presented.
But the show struggles to move from political ideas to engrossing drama, with each scene and character seeming to represent, rather than humanise, the issues. The overwhelming message is that the system is entirely callous and often actively racist, never addressing the extraordinary challenges faced by those trying to fairly assess asylum claims.
Despite this, the script has more potential than is seen on stage, with timid direction and uneven performances highlighting its one-dimensional nature. The scenes move rapidly from naturalism to stylised, poetic sequences, but these elements are not explored in a production that lacks pace and punch. It’s a pity, because O’Shea has the necessary passion to create theatre of real substance and may well be one to watch out for in future.