In response to the Arab Spring, Tunnel is one of four plays to come out of Sandpit Arts’ first annual playwriting competition, Bulbul. The non-profit art organisation Sandpit Arts, creates works that engage with the diverse Middle Eastern and African culture in order to open people up to discussion and understanding of values and a way of life so different to their own. Indeed, at a time now where society has been saturated by violent images and grown impassive towards stories of suffering from the Middle East and its diaspora, the company have taken on a challenge to wake people up from their stupor and force an audience to engage with contemporary issues.
Tonight, this company succeeded in doing just that. As soon as the show starts the audience is transported to a tunnel between Egypt and the Gaza strip; with the sound of heavy breathing and the claustrophobic darkness surrounding you there is no escaping this feeling that you are no longer in the comfort of your home where the latest news bulletin can be turned off or ignored. Restricted to all-fours Salim, a professional smuggler, is trapped in the tunnel with a 17 year-old boy called Ammar. Moving effortlessly from reality to imagination, the play is highly metaphorical as it addresses issues concerning the selfishness of humanity, Middle Eastern politics and the hardships faced every day in such a place. The performance has a hauntingly surrealistic feel with its captivating lyricism and atmospheric sound-scaping. The use of lighting could be brushed off as simple but the use of head torches multiplies the disorientating, suffocating space of the tunnel; and a stark white light during some of the more dream-like sequences is devastatingly effective in captivating the audience as they question what is reality and what is not.
Directed by Mags Chalcraft, the play is an enchanting amalgamation of ridiculous encounters and evocative sequences of confusion and sorrow. Fanos Xenofos’s performance as Salim is powerful and full of passion as the confusion in the collapsed tunnel crosses into scenes of blurred reality. His presence is felt even in the dim lighting of the set and he produces a controlled and consistent performance. Tanushka Marah provides some of the contrasting moments of humour as Salim’s mother, with a mature and utterly believable portrayal of a Middle Eastern mother and her concerns. Lara Sawalha, Vikash Bhai, James El-Sharawy and Adam Lowry-Smith are equally deserving in praise as their individual performances add to the unmistakably talented cast the Sandpit Arts’ has. The focus which radiates from the whole cast throughout the show draws the audience in and adds so much strength to the emotive and provoking issues that this company boldly addresses. Flawlessly executed, intelligently dealt with and undeniably poignant: this is a must see.