Occupied at Theatre503
In a derelict Victorian toilet in Tooting, two Romanian immigrants welcome Tom, their bound and gagged abductee, into their home. Unable to escape, he must endure days of conversation, arguing and desperation as Andreya and Alex try to learn from him how to be English, all the while avoiding occasional outbursts from Elena, a demented elderly Romanian tramp.
Writer Carla Graus, artistic director of The Hurly Burly Theatre Company, has tackled the sensitive subject of (specifically Eastern European) immigration in her latest work, Occupied. The play, which won the 2013 Nick Darke award, is a dark comedy about identity and belonging. It draws on Graus’ experience of living in Romania, and her return to England during what she describes as “the grip of Eastern European invasion hysteria in 2007”.
Having read numerous news articles about poor Romanians being discovered living in London’s abandoned public spaces, garden sheds and vacant homes, Graus recognised the humour inherent in a situation where, for example, a homeowner would return to be offered a cup of tea by the new inhabitant, who was dressed in their clothes. At the same time, the obvious tragic aspect makes the subject matter poignant.
This ability to punctuate a tragic circumstance with humour, or indeed accentuate the serous within the absurd (the play gets progressively grimmer), is well executed. Nowhere is it more appreciable than within the character of Alex, who is hilarious as he tries to convince Tom to help him get a girlfriend. (“Tell her I like walking on the beach and horror movies.”) And yet his desperation to emulate a respectable, well-off Englishman in order to escape his troubled past is heart-breakingly sad. Mark Conway’s performance in this role is outstanding, the play as a whole nothing short of eye-opening.
Photo: Anna Kacprzyk
Occupied is at Theatre503 until 26th April 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a teaser trailer for Occupied here: