Sorry We Didn't Die at Sea

The traditional direction of migrants seeking a better life is turned on its head in Emanuele Aldrovandi’s Sorry We Didn’t Die At Sea (translated by Marco Young) at the Park Theatre.

Intriguingly genre-defying and challenging

Set in a not-too-distant future, when the economies of their countries have collapsed, three Europeans of mixed ethnicity are forced to flee the continent in search of a better life. They choose the common shipping container method to cross the closed border for which they had previously campaigned. The three strangers have engaged the same people-smuggler at great expense to find them a passage to a new life. Their claustrophobic voyage forms the passing of the play.

A burgundy curtain from floor to ceiling shields the thrust floor of Studio 90 on three sides. As it recedes The Burly One (Felix Garcia Guyer) makes his demand for the agreed payment. Aldrovandi’s device of not naming the countries the migrants come from is matched by not giving names to the migrants, which broadens the universality of his message. The Beautiful One (Yasmine Haller), The Tall One (Will Bishop) and The Stocky One (Marco Young) are there with their minimal possessions and wads of cash; dollars being insisted upon as the euro is now worthless. With accounts almost settled the curtains becomes the flap at the rear of the container through which they pass on their journey into the unknown.

They each have their own backgrounds and stories, some of which we become privy to, along with lies and imaginings that cover up gaps in their lives and mislead their fellow passengers and The Burly One. As the journeys progresses we realise that that the play is intriguingly genre-defying and challenging, and this assessment is borne out in the programme notes. We are told that it is a ‘dark and comic play’, that is also ‘satirical’ and ‘absurdist’; a work that ‘darkly refracts Europe’s migration crisis’ and asks us ‘to consider the contingency of migrant status, the fragility of civil society, and the risks we run by ignoring the power of the natural world’. It’s a tall order and and perhaps something of an over-reach in terms of combining those different forms along with an element of the macabre combined with pure comedy that hints at farce.

There is no doubt, however, that the cast adapts to it perfectly. They ring the changes of style with ease. There is credibility in their delivery because none us knows how we might behave in such a situation or what lengths we might go to in order to survive. There is always a fine line between laughter and tears; tragedy and comedy; self-preservation and compassion for others. There is also the ever-changing balance of power: of how how the strong become weak; the controlling, defenceless and the caring merciless.

It’s probably not the play we think it’s going to be. This is no straightforward story of people in boats escaping persecution, famine or war; indeed their reasons for leaving Europe seem rather weak. But it's an insight into the terrifying and uncertain plight of those willing to risk their lives in the hope of brighter future.

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The Blurb

It’s the near future and Europe has failed. A domino effect of nationalist, isolationist policies has left the continent’s economies on the brink of collapse, and citizens of the very countries who closed their borders to immigrants are forced to flee across the seas. 

In a claustrophobic shipping container, three unnamed travellers place their lives at the mercy of a mysterious people-smuggler. Forced to exist on the brink between civility and chaos, they pray that they will reach their destination. And yet there are natural - and human - forces at work which are far beyond their control.

This darkly comic, absurdist, and political piece offers us a refracted story of European migration - asking us how well we would fare if we were forced to make a perilous journey across the sea, and what lengths we would go to in order to survive.

Playwright Emanuele Aldrovandi is one of Italy’s foremost theatre-makers. His work has been performed across Europe and the United States. This production transfers from the Seven Dials Playhouse, where it was first performed to British audiences in July 2022.  

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