Do We Look Like Refugees? tells the story of displaced Georgians, uprooted by the 2008 fighting in South Ossetia, gathered in Tserovani, a prefab camp miles from their mountainous homeland.
Worthy- yes; informative – yes but overall a showcase of the irrepressibility of the human spirit, national identity and the collective EU shame of having not intervened to help in time to save a much loved homeland. And it is touching, amusing and dignified.
Necessarily breaking the stereotype images conjured by the word ‘refugee’, Alecky Blythe’s (Girlfriend Experience) distinctive modus operandi – the verbatim show (where the actors are fed the tapes of interviews through headphones and repeat complete with pauses, intonation and hesitation) - is a gentle but forceful remainder that these are real people with real stories.
Five excellent actors (Mari Janashia, Edmond Minashvili, Lasha Okreshidze, Ketevan Svanidze and Tiemuraz Tchitchinadze) from Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Theatre bring quiet dignity and understanding to the lot of the exile who make the best of things establishing a new community with marriages and births on the increase and keeping the local hairdresser busy while doing whatever it takes to keep going.
This is no plea for sympathy, it’s Blythe giving voice to a forgotten minority which has lost everything but mourns most the graves of their family they can no longer visit.
We hear, mainly in Georgian but with subtitles, of their new daily lives and being reduced to selling bread for a pittance or being just a number on the compensation list; the prohibitive expense of required paperwork in order to work or travel; the wonder of native organic pears; beekeeping, and the need to buy wine to remain hospitable even when there is little enough money for food.
Interspersed by songs accompanied by ethnic instruments, Do We Look Like Refugees?, a collaboration between the National Theatre Studio in London, Rustaveli Theatre, and the British Council, is an uplifting piece of theatre.
Directed by Blythe herself, this is an interesting, occasionally amusing 50-minute piece simply delivered against a backdrop of slides and film.