Theatre Review – Closed Lands

In 1989, I am seventeen years old. In October 1989, I am seventeen
years old and I remember.
Closed Lands, Simon Grangeat’s play about
migration and exclusion, begins with this ecstatic memory of the fall of
the Berlin Wall. It continues, harrowingly, as an account of the walls,
physical and political, that dominate our world thirty-one years later.

LegalAliens, a London-based international theatre company, discovered
Closed Lands in 2019, had it translated from the French by Laure
Fernandez and company members, and staged it this March in the
Vaults festival in Waterloo. The five female actors, themselves migrants
from across the globe, move between roles and between areas of the
stage: each is at some time The Politician, The Citizen, The Migrant and
so on. The Migrant’s journey is symbolised by her use of a stepping
machine, like an endless trek across a desert. The Politician is at
different times Matteo Salvini, George W Bush and Donald Trump
(brilliantly mimicked by Catharina Conte). A video projection shows
walls being constructed. In the final, devastating act, the cast as
migrants recount the risks and terrors of life when undocumented,
repeatedly detained and removed; and as immigration staff describe the
techniques used to restrain and deport them. A coda reminds us that
the UK is by no means exempt from the inhumanity portrayed, with a
wall around Calais and the Brexit referendum.

This is a powerful, stark play, and director Becka McFadden has wisely
chosen to offer it straight, without either tears or visible outrage. There
are few props: the stepping machine, a barrier gradually constructed out
of boxes, a cardigan for The Citizen as she sits alone. The production
lets Grangeat’s searing text reach us unmediated. The five actors move
seamlessly between roles, their transitions choreographed with simplicity
and style.

We hope Closed Lands can be shown more widely; we all need its

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