Rights of Passage

Mon 20th – Sun 26th August 2018

reviews

Alina Young

at 09:35 on 23rd Aug 2018

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In terms of subject matter, the Cambridge Pembroke Players would be hard pushed to find an issue more heart-breaking or urgent. Following the lives of three LGBT refugees from Iran, Malaysia and Uganda seeking asylum in the UK, this captivating verbatim piece portrays three true stories. At times, the tale is more powerful than the teller, but that is not necessarily a detriment to the overall value of the show.

Most importantly, it raises not just the persecution of sexuality in their home countries – where all faced severe social, physical and legal punishment if discovered – but the inhuman bureaucratic process the UK enforces onto asylum seekers. The public perception is often that the UK is a saving grace to refugees facing persecution, but the piece brilliantly reveals the real dealings of the Home Office. Repeatedly, the refugees are denied due to insufficient ‘evidence’ of being gay, using not knowing the closing times of gay clubs as proof of heterosexuality and saying moronic statements like “with respect to your sexuality, we conclude you are not gay.”

The scenes shift between the central characters as the three stories are told simultaneously, exposing parallels in their oppression. A common factor was religious backing for anti-gay beliefs. The directorial choices in these earlier sequences, using lighting and the supporting cast to great effect, was a compelling expression of the struggle of reconciling sexuality with religion. The production created the feeling of oppression from books and bodies, as religious leaders circled the gay people and quoted scripture that proclaims them as demonic or cursed.

While the more stylised scenes were effective, it must be said that the cast were of mixed ability during more naturalistic moments. Especially when depicting intimacy, the scenes sometimes sat uneasily and distracted from the story. By the end, however, all the principal actors delivered touching, even tear-jerking, performances. The supporting cast’s Jordan Julien, who rotates between characters is, on the other hand, incredibly accomplished throughout. Playing a religious preacher, a police thug, a gay boyfriend, a homophobic father and brother, and a violent husband, his performance out of all the cast was the most believable and moving.

Technically speaking, this production of ‘Rights of Passage’ may not be the most accomplished on par with professional productions, but it is still an impressive effort. Although a few acting moments may be weaker, overall the production is smooth and does justice to the horrendous stories. This play is important to see, as it boldly approaches issues often hidden behind Home Office walls and left unreported.

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Beatrix Swanson Scott

at 12:36 on 23rd Aug 2018

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Miremba, the lesbian Ugandan woman who flees an abusive forced marriage only to find more heartbreak and worry in London; Hamed, the Iranian gay man who flees execution only to be told by the Home Office that they have insufficient proof of his sexuality; and Izzuddin, the Malay international student at Edinburgh university who is persecuted for his homosexuality here as much as he was back in Malaysia. Staged by Cambridge’s Pembroke Players in association with Oxfam, Rights of Passage tells the stories of three LGBTQ refugees whose problems caused by their sexuality do not, as some might assume, end when they come to seek asylum in the UK.

It is impossible to dispute that this is an important production – I was unaware of many issues it raised, and no doubt many other audience members had the same experience. However, a message alone is not enough to make a good show – fortunately, many more elements of this show were very well done. The direction and design made excellent use of a low budget by eschewing any set to focus on movement and lighting (unfortunately, there was rather too much of the latter going on), and dressing the three refugees in black and the rest of the multi-rolling actors in white for clarity. This white-dressed quartet often functioned as a sort of Greek chorus, to great effect. Though the acting in the chorus was of distinctly varying quality, there were stand-out performances among the refugees, especially from Danny Baalbaki, who imbued Hamed’s grammatically hampered words (no doubt these were taken down verbatim – the show is built partly from transcribed interviews) with incredible sincerity.

Yes, it could have benefitted from some cuts, more pace and a bit more ‘show don’t tell’, but this is a very affecting play. Overall, Pembroke Players are to be applauded for tackling many difficult subjects, casting a team of enthusiastic young BAME students and daring to have their Fringe show run longer than an hour (90 minutes)!

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