Exploring the experiences of those seeking refuge in the UK, The Claim is a compelling examination of language, power and storytelling. Serge (Ery Nzaramba) seems to be here for an interview. In the following hour, we bear witness to his attempts to explain how he came to be in the UK, and to justify his continued presence. Two unnamed officials (Nick Blakeley and Emmanuella Cole) are also present, with their purpose unclear. At first it seems they want to help, but it becomes increasingly apparent that they are fundamentally unable to listen to Serge without imposing their own expectations onto his words. As linguistic confusion escalates, Serge is faced with the impossible challenges of telling his story in his own words.
A compelling examination of language, power and storytelling.
The cast give perceptive and lively performances, handling the complexities of unspoken power dynamics with assurance. Nzaramba brings Serge to life with charisma and wit; it is difficult to watch his initial ease eroded by increasing distrust in those who said they would help him. Blakeley is endearing as a well-meaning, if misguided, ally to Serge, struggling to reconcile their friendship with the responsibilities of his occupation. On the other hand, Cole gives a chilling performance, where her character’s need for control undermines all traces of humanity. The production is expertly supported by sound and lighting design from Lewis Gibon and Joshua Pharo respectively, making a significant contribution to the unsettling and intimidating environment.
Tim Cowbury’s insightful writing embeds the politics of power and identity into credible, complex dialogue. Gaps between words and actions are subtlety crafted into the narrative. This exploration of language and interpretation is most ingenious, however, in the establishment that Serge’s first language is not English, meaning that his words must be translated by Blakeley’s character for the benefit of his colleague. This places us, as the audience, in the fascinating position of outsiders, uniquely placed to comprehend the events of the play.
This is a powerful production which goes right to the heart of what it means to truly listen, without ego or judgement. The Claim addresses the currently burning issue of refuge with sensitivity, style and intelligence.