Play: Babylon Beyond Borders
Playwright: Annie Siddons
Theatre: Bush Theatre
Director: Ruthie Osterman
Review by Tamera Heron
Director Ruthie Osterman, in collaboration with Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Pedro Granato and Mwenya Kabwe, bravely explore the concept of what home means to various migrants across the globe, each linked by four towers (all built in the 1970s) and tragedy. Choosing to live stream simultaneously from London, São Paulo, Johannesburg and New York, created an innovative and intimate atmosphere.
The production, which unites four theatres (Bush Theatre, London; Market Theatre Lab, Johannesburg; Pequeno Ato, São Paulo and Harlem Stage, New York), combined music, dance and memories to great effect.
Artist Sarah Elizabeth Charles alongside her band Scope, led us into the performance with what would become the captivating signature song. Followed by the heavily accented chant of “we are bricks and mortar” from the all female, London-based cast, providing reference to the biblical tale of Babel, set the theme for the evening.
In London, we meet three women (Lydia Bakelmun, Carol Walton and Afia Abusham), all victims of Grenfell Tower. Sat in front of a camera, they discuss their frustrations over the lack of government action, the devastating impact on children and the lives lost.
An optimistic young man (Gloire Ilonde) from the Congo, dreams of a better life and woefully recalls the moment he witnessed the fire at Fortes Paissandu on the 9 July in Sâo Paulo, Brazil. As he describes the reluctance of the emergency services to help, the horror and disappointment could be heard in every word.
Unfortunately, technical difficulties disrupted the narrative flow, leaving the audience without audio when discussing the Twin Towers in the US. It would have been intriguing to hear more about how this event affected their country and the global community.
Nonetheless, the performances – inspired by these four towers, including Ponte Tower, Johannesburg – inspire passion, with thought-provoking with tear-jerking content.
There are even moments of humour such as the ‘Tresemmé’ airline’s skit, on our beleaguered PM Theresa May, which alerts us to the turbulent results of the Brexit referendum. It also urges those from ethnic minority backgrounds to brace themselves for the journey ahead.
Although the ending is somewhat abrupt, it leaves you with an understanding that these people are their buildings. Each smile, tear and conversation, embedded into the towers’ infrastructure – and their memories.
Babylon Beyond Borders was at Bush Theatre from 13 February to 16th February 2019.