The Container is one of those plays which cannot be enjoyed or viewed as an evening’s entertainment, something to do before heading off to other social engagements (this piece is only an hour long). To attach such words to this sort of experience-driven theatre would severely underestimate the response to what the piece is all about. This is one of those plays which is necessary.
It tells the story of a group of people who have fled from their homelands in pursuit of a better life. A man trying to get back to his family; a businessman running away from his livelihood; a soon-to-be mother seeking a new home; and two women refugees trying to escape war. Everyone must look after each other. Until, that is, their futures are put into question and the situation becomes a frightening example of everyone out for themselves.
Directed by Tom Wright and designed by Naomi Dawson, the play is unusually set in a small and dark lorry container which allows the audience’s senses to heighten. It’s very warm, it stinks of sweat and people, it’s hugely uncomfortable. The sound design by Adrienne Quartley contributes to the effect, channelling sound with heavy bass through the floor, and the decision to place the actual container in The Cut outside the Young Vic proves a good one – the cars rumbling by make it all the more real.
But it’s the talented cast who really bring the story to life and add that human edge. Particularly notable are two exciting young actors: Amber Agar as Mariam and Abhin Galeya as Jemal, neither of whom were in last year’s award-winning Edinburgh production interestingly. The terrifying Agent, played by Chris Spyrides, is the middle-man taking the cash and passing it on, but the question of where it goes is not revealed.
Are these people, selling illegal passage to the UK, really doing it out of the goodness of their hearts? Perhaps some are, but the money involved suggests that it is just another endeavour to exploit the already-exploited, the desperate. Emotionally captured by writer Clare Bayley, The Container allows you to experience – however slightly – what that might be like.
A flyer from the Still Human, Still Here charity handed to me on exiting features a quote from an asylum seeker who has ‘made it’ here: “I wake up hungry and I go to bed hungry… In Kinshasa I was tortured physically and here I’m tortured mentally. I’ve transferred from one prison to another.”
The Container shows us that we have indeed de-humanised these people. We don’t care, because we have no concept of what they have been through. This important, award-winning piece provides the concept. It is up to the audience what they do with that.