Review, The Claim, Shoreditch Town Hall

Tonderai Munyevu as Serge in The Claim at Shoredtich Town Hall

Tonderai Munyevu as Serge in The Claim at Shoredtich Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Black humour and menace offer shades of Pinter in a serious play which dramatises the plight of one asylum seeker navigating the Home Office’s hostile bureacracy

The opening of this amusing and yet desperately serious play is mystifying: who are these people? where are they? what is their relationship? And what on earth are they talking about?

There is an aura of menace hovering around Emma Bailey's comfortless, colourless set design: are we perhaps in Pinter territory?

It turns out to be a play with a clear political message. But it is not agit-prop.

Tim Cowbury is too good a writer for that. His compelling dialogue commands attention throughout as, gradually, the situation becomes clearer.

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This is a thoroughly researched and cleverly structured production, sometimes funny, sometimes heartrending - often both at the same time. The hostile set, as much like a prison as an office, is lit with uncompromising bleakness by Joshua Pharo and Lewis Gibson's threatening sound effects come and go ominously, echoing the fear and despair which haunts this production.

Tonderai Munyeva, as Serge, gives a moving performance of a patient but puzzled human being, trapped in a hostile bureaucracy. Resident in Streatham and originally from the Congo, he is seeking asylum in the UK. His case would seem to be straightforward.

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But his interview with A goes round and round, getting further from the truth with his every attempt to explain. In an incident which epitomizes the whole cruel muddle, the three actors enact a hilarious session in which proceedings are theoretically interpreted and/or translated while in fact misconstruing and misunderstanding everything.

This scene encapsulates the whole ridiculous muddle. Serge is trapped by a system which is determined not to help or understand his plight.

Nick Blakeley, plays A with a clumsy, nervous sympathy. His training course has led him to expect certain attitudes and outcomes, which somehow fail to apply to Serge. Besides, he has personal problems and pre-occupations to distract and worry him. B, the other official, played by Indra Ova, is not interested in understanding Serge's situation. She has swallowed the rule-book whole. She knows his motives and actions are suspect. Besides, she has her own needs. It is time to terminate the interview and go home. Serge is left in limbo.

Until March 7

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