Lampedusa at the Soho
The Italian island of Lampedusa is no longer known only for its idyllic beaches. For some years, it has become synonymous with the constant surge of incoming migrants arriving from Africa by boat and often perishing before reaching their destination. As the numbers multiply yearly and the complications expand disproportionately, playwright Andres Lustgarten narrows down the issue to two workers who deal with such situations clinically, until they can no longer suppress their humanity.
Stefano comes from a family of fishermen, but since business has died out, he resorts to the unpleasant alternative of fishing out the corpses of hundreds of migrants who drown during their journey. In an analogous story taking place in Leeds, Denise works for a payday loan company and must collect from those who cannot afford to repay their debts. Lampedusa is a strong socio-political critique exposing a faulty system that dehumanises those in need. However, the parallel accounts unfolding in the UK and in Italy show that feelings of compassion are universal.
Stefano initially dismisses the idea of offering assistance, assuming a professional armour that shields him from the gruesome reality, because to acknowledge the migrants’ condition would prove too overwhelming a task. Then he meets Modibo, a Malian mechanic who helps fix a boat engine and repeatedly offers to buy Stefano coffee, as if he enjoyed complete financial ease. Stefano cannot remain indifferent to Modibo’s cheerful attitude. Similarly, Denise finds an unlikely friend in one of her clients, a single mother from Portugal who offers support during a difficult time. Both protagonists are puzzled by the migrants’ kindness and smiles. The message is that, ultimately, the gap between indifference and caring is bridged by an awareness of the individual’s experience – the element of humanity in a generic social phenomenon.
A handful of basic props is sufficient to transport the viewer to exactly where the characters are, physically and emotionally. The performance space is otherwise bare, but the intimate, circular set-up means that the audience is huddled around the action. The two actors, who offer raw, stirring performances, sit among members of the audience as they narrate the stories, reinforcing the notion that everyone is in it together.
The audience is left with a spiral of hope as the characters connect in spite of the bigger forces trying to divide them. As well as an effective theatrical production, Lampedusa is a bold proclamation against the apathy surrounding immigration issues.
Lampedusa is on at the Soho Theatre until 26th April 2015, for further information or to book visit here.