EH Makin Theatre, Liverpool John Moores University
18th - 20th June 2015

Reviewed by Tom Calderbank

‘Home’ is a powerful and engrossing piece of theatre. Throughout the performance, I was convinced we were all on a beach in Australia.

Produced by Irish theatre group AnNua, it’s directed by Paula Simms and written by Paul Moore (who also starred, alongside John Graham Davies). This production has been almost 2 years in the making. Using the words of Irish migrants, immigrants to Ireland, and refugees from across the world, it was a simple story that masked a genuine depth and complexity. It was a study in identity and land, about where you called home. It also raised critical issues of clashes of cultures, racism, genocides, inhumanity, and about why we still just can’t get on.

The set was a sparse beach with a small fire prepared close to the audience. In the semi-darkness, we can see lights in the distance. There is also a man in a hobo hat with his back to us. Sounds of water drifted through the air, along with a plaintive Uileann Pipes melody. The lighting shifts, and we can see that there is a canvas sheet covering something to the side. A pirate flag on a pole sticks out of it. The man in the hat comes round to light the fire. The real fire he intends to light will be revealed in a minute…

The lighting shifts as the flame takes hold. (Incidentally, the lighting designer deserves huge credit for excellent and atmospheric work throughout). “Ah”, he begins. “Ah”. He looks and sounds like one of Beckett’s hobo heroes. Maybe he’s waiting for Godot, too. He’s talking to his Gran. Her voice drifts along with the water. He remembers them having “2 starfish in our heads”. He reminisces about life in the Motherland. “I’m Ireland in my body and voice,” describing the place “a wee world with big problems.”

Then his accent shifts and he’s not Irish at all, he’s Australian. The banshees start singing and death is calling. He jumps up and pulls back the canvas sheet to reveal…a police sergeant. Chained, hands and feet. Jimmy trains a short rifle on him, menacingly. He’s the one who’s representing all the victims of historical police brutality. “I am all your victims!” he shouts. He wants revenge in particular for this officer’s shooting dead a Maori man named Raymond Thomas. He got a medal for bravery for it. He wonders why there’s only been one armed uprising in 200 years of Australian history, the 1854 Eureka Stockade. The policeman asks him if he’s in the IRA. No. His country is called ‘All Around You’, with no flag but the sky, kites for an airforce, and whose language is poetry. He pulls a pistol out. By killing this policeman, he’ll symbolically kill them all. He’s going to make history, to even the score, for the all the victims of police brutality, the murdered, the dispossessed, the refugees, and the migrants. Jimmy is the avenging angel.

He remembers leaving Liverpool on the Patrice (and how ugly it looked compared with the photograph). Singapore was a revelation. “No-one is ugly in Singapore”. Then the lighting changes as he goes back to his Irish accent. The policeman knows a crazy person when he sees one. “You’ve got a war going on in your head”, he shouts. Sergeant insists he’s not a bloody Nazi. Then Jimmy’s gran’s voice, speaking softly to him. He remembers being able to sit next to girls in school. And doing sex education, where he learned how girls lay eggs. He tells her he’s being physically changed by the New World: his hair, his voice, his skin. The land gets into your body. He mockingly repeats the anti-Irish jokes that have dogged him, the casual racism dressed up in humour’s clothes.

Sergeant tells him “I’m on your side”, insisting they’re just the same. He only took the job to pay the bills, and to help bring justice to the world. Imagine if the police weren’t here. Jimmy brandishes the gun, a man with no control seeking it, when it accidentally goes off, shooting the Sergeant in the leg. Jimmy applies a tourniquet, whilst going off on another reverie, imagining his drunken dad after his mam has left them. It’s clear that Jimmy is a man broken by the dislocated migrant experience and the unraveling of his family.

When Jimmy speaks of the people in the Mediterranean, out there floating on coffin ships, it brings the subject matter right up to date. Sadly, this play couldn’t be more topical. As he speaks, haunting images of desperate migrants (women, men, children) are projected onto the back wall, giving a human face to the grim headlines and statistics. Losing blood and hope, Sergeant admits he shouldn’t have hurt Jimmy, saying “you become the things you thought you’d never be.” He explains the circumstances around how he came to kill Raymond confesses how it was his white-hot anger and racism that led him to pumping 3 bullets into him. The ghosts are coming to have their say.

As ‘Waltzing Mathilda’ plays on the clarinet, Jimmy outlines how European migrants “spread like dull water” across the face of the world, and subsequent global, genocidal assault on indigenous peoples everywhere. He mentions famous Aboriginal leader Yagan, who in punishment for his resistance was beheaded and his mummified head sent to Liverpool. This was a lovely local reference, as I remember the campaign from 1995 to repatriate Yagan’s head for proper burial in his homeland. Jimmy feels that “we are men and women at an end. Time itself has aged.” We stopped truly living a long time ago, desensitised consumers, watching our widescreen televisions made by slaves. The piece ends dramatically with Sergeant crying, telling Jimmy to just kill him. Jimmy comes behind him, pointing the gun at his head, face in shadow, whilst he talks poignantly to Gran’s ghost. Whether he will pull the trigger or not is the climactic question.

It’s a work in progress - and with room for improvement, certainly – but it was still a beautifully written and performed work, which has hugely important points to make. I loved the way our sympathy shifted between the characters. It shows real compassion for the plight of refugees in this world. And laments the gulf of space between us, we who should be brothers.

It could go on to become a classic.


For more info: http://annuaproductions.com/

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