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  • Flora Gosling

Review: The Border (BATS Theatre)

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

Uprooting one's life, risking everything for a chance to improve one's life, is the kind of story that great drama is built on. "The Border", written and directed by Manuel Saez and from Smoko Company, looks at a specific part of the journey that millions of people take; the meeting between a migrant seeking escape and a "dealer", helping them to escape and potentially exploit them in the process.

The show is performed by two nameless characters performed by Saez and Anastasia Dolinina. Saez passion for the project is evident in his performance. He scampers from corner to corner around the minimalist set of a launderette (the only real indication or impact of this setting being that there was a washing machine on stage) like a petrified rabbit, interrogating, threatening and pleading with Donolina's character in the power struggle between them. However, every line is delivered in a gruff, panic stricken voice, that is almost unintelligible.

Donolina's own performance reflects this frantic nature, though she (and arguably her co-star) is unfortunately monotone throughout, trying to keep the same level of tension without any variety in her performance whatsoever. Constantly rushing her lines through gritted teeth and flapping around matchstick arms in place of expressing any emotion through her face, it is impossible to distinguish between emotional monologues and combative dialogues. Her physicality is strong; she appears as a woman who has been through a great deal and is prepared to go through a great deal more in search of a better life, and her moments of mild combat with Saez's character appeared violent and real, but the essential subtleties of her character are missing.

However the performances they are not helped by Saez's direction. The script alone is rather difficult to swallow, littered with undeveloped metaphors, coded exchanges, and a great deal of off-stage action. Though there is some nice imagery and writing style, it feels as though poetic indulgence was chosen over practical and linear story telling. Then again, it was somewhat difficult to tell given the direction. Saez has put a great deal of expectation on his audience to following along with the action regardless of the speed at which is unfolds. Not only is it difficult for an audience to follow at the pace and lack of variety in tone, but it also damages the believability of the performances, as I cannot for a moment digest that with such a complex dynamic that foolish, ordinary humans could operate at that speed without getting completely lost themselves.

It is possible that the script and story may be moving, challenging, and perfectly understandable but was overpowered by misguided direction and overacting, but I have no way of knowing, and looking back I cannot honestly say that there was a single moment during the performance where I could tell you what was happening. Two stars.

Whispers from the crowd:

"I'm not sure who the criminal was, but I suppose it doesn't matter."

"I don't get it at all"

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