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Review: Now We Are Here (Young Vic)

The play tells the story of four refugees journeying to Britain to escape war and persecution

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Golda Rosheuvel in Now We Are Here
© Helen Murray

The great danger with daily headlines about the world's migration crisis is that we stop seeing refugees as people and see them as a faceless, threatening mass. But the great virtue of theatre is its power to make us stop and consider individual stories.

This compelling evening puts the narratives of exile centre stage. Although performed by professional actors, it is written by people who know what they are talking about – writers who are themselves refugees, who created the work in collaboration with the poet Deanna Rodger, the director Ian Rickson and Imogen Brodie, director of the Young Vic's Taking Part.

It takes the form of two 45-minute pieces. The first, by Desmond Jolly, Mir Ahmed, and Michael Mugishangyezi, tells the stories of three men Desmond, Mir and Michael (played by Gary Beadle, Manish Gandhi and Jonathan Livingstone) who all find themselves claiming refugee status in Britain. Their experiences are very different; Desmond is fleeing the homophobia he has encountered in Jamaica; Mir, who is also gay, is fleeing Pakistan and a brutal father who locked him in a mental asylum when he refused to get married; Michael has been in prison in East Africa thanks to "political and tribal tensions."

Their stories are not linked, but each man listens to the other as he speaks. The intensity of that listening extends to the audience. Each of the stories is revealing but it is Michael, who describes the endless nothingness of a refugee's life, of days moving from hostel to day centre, of walking the streets crazed by hunger without even a bus fare to your name, who captures the pain of "people who are the sea level of their own hopes. You mourn your own life."

Their experiences remind us how various and complicated people's reasons for seeking safety in another land can be and that is also the theme of Tamara McFarlane's heart-breaking monologue, performed by Golda Rosheuvel. This is a lesbian love story between two school girls, blighted by intolerance and fear. Rosheuvel is marvellous, but so are the words, and the way they unfold a story of "Tutti Frutti kisses" that turn from innocence to desire and the fear that springs from seeing a gay boy being horrifically murdered by a mob.

Rickson's direction is meticulous throughout, allowing each sentence to reveal its truth. The acting is beautifully judged with the same directness of purpose, simple but profoundly effective.

Now We Are Here runs at the Young Vic as part of Horizons until 30 July.