+3 Review: Still Here (The Tent, ZOO @ St.Mary’s South Lawn: 5-24 Aug: 19.15: 1hr)

“I hope Theatre for Justice are back soon with the next instalment”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I’ll admit that before this show I had no idea where Eritrea was, and I wasn’t even sure how to spell it. I knew nothing of the religious persecution going on in the country or the hundreds of people who flee it every day. For these insights alone Still Here is worth watching. Yet while being a “worthy” piece of theatre, it never veers into being preachy: rather, it is a simple account of one student’s (Rachel Partington’s) trip to a refugee camp and the people she met there. It’s honest, frank and – I hate to use such a word to describe theatre – interesting.

With tickets checked by border control officials, a mismatching array of seats (including deck chairs) for the audience, and performed in a tent outside a church far from the central hub of normal Fringe venues, Still Here goes to great lengths to create an authentic experience that is central to its overall aims. The show opens with the two main characters telling interweaving stories of their journeys to Calais – six hours for the interviewer, and six years for the refugee. It’s a great way to set the contrasts for the piece, and is creatively staged to give it interest.

Actors Afolabi Alli and Rachel Partington both do an outstanding job with clear, engaging performances that strike the perfect balance between honesty and theatricality. They bring a real fresh-faced look to an age-old problem and their vitality makes them a joy to watch.

Water is used creatively throughout, from sound effects to projections, and it’s great to see this young company using intelligent recurring motifs within their work. Other props are fairly minimal, as the performance uses a more physical and human approach to its storytelling – again a sympathetic match with the subject material. More powerful is the use of a child’s puppet, whose unspoken presence towards the end of the piece is made even more stark when Partington utters the words “I can’t help. I can’t do anything to help.” Stirring stuff.

Yet while everything in the performance is done very well, content-wise it is somewhat lacking. Largely centred around just one 15 minute interview with a single refugee, it’s disappointing that as a production it seems a little unfinished, with so much more potential to create a really powerful and inspiring show with more depth to it. It’s a great first chapter, and I hope Theatre for Justice are back soon with the next instalment.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)