One man, isolated and alone on a stage completely covered with discarded, unwanted clothing: it's a striking visual metaphor for this show which is based on interviews with gay men and women who fled mass killings by militia groups in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Many of them headed to the UK, driven by the hope of freedom from persecution, not always welcomed with open arms.
Inspired by pictures taken by photojournalist Bradley Secker, Elegy isn’t quite as heavy as it sounds but poetic and accessible, deserving the plaudits from its stint at last year’s Edinburgh fringe.
Elegy is also a compelling tribute to the people who died in the crackdown on liberty - one UN official believes the number of homophobic murders in Iraq was “in the hundreds” - as well as posing questions about how we treat immigrants from areas of conflict in the UK.
Sam Phillips (who is as the programme notes state, a white British actor) recounts the life of an imagined man, ranging from early, touching, youthful encounters to more experienced nights out in Baghdad clubs to the fear of murder, then the nightmare and heartache of becoming a refugee: as he says, “this wasn’t meant to happen”.
The narrative seems ever-relevant, given the conflict we’re now seeing in Syria, the hot potato that immigration is in British politics at the moment, and even after former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey's and Ann Widdecombe’s pro-marriage rally at the Tory party conference this week: the ex-MP strongly denied it was an anti-gay rally.
Created and directed by Douglas Rintoul and re-devised by TRANSPORT theatre company after its premiere last year, this hour-long monologue could seem staid and dry. But a sensitive, nuanced performance from Phillips, plus superb lighting (Dani Bish) and sound design (Helen Atkinson) which shifts us in time and place so well (whether it’s a mobile phone beep or the whirr and horns of traffic) carry us along with and important and universal story.
- Vicky Ellis