Nina Simone once said, “It is the duty of the artist to reflect the times”. In other words, create art with a purpose. Art that provokes change.
Watching directors’ Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin’s stirring and moving piece “The Jungle “, I can safely say I have seen the physical embodiment of this and now know the example I will probably be using as a reference point for the rest of my life.
There are so many things to speak on this piece. The first is the wow-invoking set design which literally puts the stalls inside an afghan café. Not only that but there is something new I have never experienced before, the full submersion of the senses. From sight, smell, sound to touch and even the texture of the air, it is another world with food cooking, mud underfoot, televisions blasting local programmes for each of the foreign landscapes minimally represented in “Jangal”.
The story is incredible and the writing is very clearly a collaborative effort as it is a mix of stories, true and fictional, to give us a true sense of what life can be like in a refugee camp. The story comes, end first, depicting the inception, growth, and destruction of the thriving vibrant community of refugees stuck in slums of Calais, waiting and hoping mostly to end up in England where they see claiming asylum as the ultimate dream. From the inception of “Jangal”, the refugees segregate along nationalities and create a sense of order and clear civility and respect by which they survive, creating semblances of home through businesses, religious houses and most notably, the Afghan restaurant where a lot of the action is set.
What really takes things to a next level is when the “white man” is introduced into this buzzing hive of activity. In true fashion, these British aid workers come in with a set agenda, each with their own personal reasons for wanting to be here instead of at home in England giving credence to a line “everybody is a refugee”. I couldn’t help kissing my teeth here, bearing witness to yet another example of white privilege, it having been said by a white actor, equating the struggle of these peoples who have journeyed thousands of miles, mostly on foot, suffered insane to unimaginable atrocities just to find peace, safety or freedom, with the fact that you are having a virtue-signaling guilt mid-life crisis.
Although, they do try to help, embedding themselves into the society over time. But what struck me was how they imbibed the coloniser kool-aid upon first arriving in “Jangal”, calling it “Jungle” because the word sounds similar, calling organiser meetings and labelling it the first of its kind, when the refugees, most more educated than those trying to “help them” have been getting things done before they even arrived. What’s worse, is that for most of the aid workers, who were so busy trying to instill a “little England” in the camps rather than helping these people actually see England. A satisficing behavioural pattern which started long before they ever set foot in the Jungle. Long before they were born, in empires which one can question if they ever crumbled truly. It brings to mind two quotes from the play, “who is really doing evil here?”, the French, who do not give these people their basic humanitarian rights, or the English, who unwittingly perpetuate the damaging behaviour of their ancestors because they “stand on the shoulders of giants but don’t even know who they are”.
What really stays is the sense of family and community the refugees create, from the richly powerful Muezzin (call to prayer) that silences all in its wake to the embedding and using of the audience as if we are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Kuwait, Kurdistan, Palestine, Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Sudan and other countries where the struggle for a better life is really an all-encompassing dream trying to be made reality.
I shed a tear for their fate and for the things they went through and I know I was not alone.
This play has purpose and voice in a way others have not done before it. It does what “Pity” at the Royal court recently tried, but failed to do. It makes people care and rouses us to action.
The Jungle runs at The Playhouse Theatre until November 3rd 2018. Find out more and book here.