1 August 2002 WOS Rating: Tanika Gupta's Sanctuary concerns refugees seeking just that. It's certainly an ambitious play, tackling the myriad problems faced by asylum-seekers in contemporary Britain, the role of the Church in the modern age, the effects of colonisation and the problem of theodicy - and that's just before the interval.
But for all these grand issues, the story is a simple one. Kabir, a refugee from Kashmir, is working in the gardens of a church ministered by an idealistic young vicar, Jenny. Kabir's friends Michael, a fellow refugee, and Sebastian, a former photographer, hang out with him. Over the course of the play, Kabir's dark secret and Michael's even darker one are revealed.
Gupta's script is not without its faults. It takes quite some time to get going as we listen to lots of rather stiffly-written exposition. And, although
Sarah Solomani plays the mixed race schoolgirl Ayesha very well, it seems to me she's one character too many. Perhaps Gupta is trying to make the point that Ayesha's impressive pedigree of races and nationalities is analogous to the 'English' race itself. Interesting, true, but it adds yet another concept to consider, and if this play is guilty of anything, it is in trying to take in too much. Such extra effort is unnecessary; the central stories are compelling enough.
Hettie McDonald has drawn some strong performances from all the cast. Leo Wringer is particularly good as Michael, the Rwandan preacher with the terrible past, but Nitin Ganatra as the guilt-ridden Kabir, Susannah Wise's well-intentioned vicar, and Eddie Nestor's Sebastian are not far behind him. The always excellent Barbara Jefford as Margaret Catchpole provides us with a perfect example of an upper-class bigot, although I wish her character wasn't quite so one-dimensional. And yet, Margaret's bigotry, if caricatured, surely reflects something of the thinking of many of us at heart.
We glance at news stories about 'bogus asylum seekers' with scarcely a thought for how they got here - their nationalities, histories and dilemmas merge into one. What Gupta's play exposes is how each refugee has an individual story to tell and how these experiences are all too often hidden. For all its faults,
Sanctuary is an impressive new play and one well worth catching.
Maxwell Cooter (reviewed at the NT Lyttelton Loft) Related Content
Score Comment Date Another mediocre new play in the NT Loft -- this new initiative, designed to showcase new plays and playwrights new to the NT in a new purpose-built studio, is proving to be a damp and expensive squib. If this is the best of the new writing that the NT can find for a studio space, then maybe it doesn't need a studio space at all. The National has done far better with bigger plays -- like the current Coast of Utopia in the Olivier, and Vincent in Brixton (now deservedly transferring to the West End) and Frozen, both in the Cottesloe. - USER: Whatsonstage.com 04 Aug 02
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