Guerrilla theatre performance reimagines immigration
London - Literary history meets contemporary politics in a reinterpretation of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” at Kensington Gardens in London.
The script, published after the second world war, which caused the largest refugee crises the world has seen, is centred on two characters who are awaiting the arrival of an unknown figure called Godot.
Through the text there is idle chat, a sense of hopelessness and a lack of clarity on where the characters are and what they are waiting for — a message that resonates heavily today, particularly for the masses of displaced populations.
Sari Chreiteh, the Lebanese- Russian director of “Waiting for Godot”, pointed out the continued relevance of the play.
“In a way, it describes an aftermath of the war in which the characters are in no immediate danger yet they are stuck. They stagnate with nothing to do and nowhere to go,” Chreiteh said. “Stripped to less than the essentials when it comes to food and shelter they somehow keep on existing with hope being dangled like a carrot in front of them.”
Since the script is somewhat timeless, due to the lack of clarity on the setting and time frame, Chreiteh manipulated the location and the form of the performance.
The actors perform one act of the two-act play per show, adding to the sentiment of never-ending nothingness. They return the following evening to continue the performance.
“I wanted to use the looming buildings, Kensington Palace and the line of embassies as the backdrop. It is for the audience to draw their own associations from contrast of the characters and their background,” Chreiteh said.
“In this day and age with armed conflict around the world, displaced populations, economic instability and social intolerance, we are all waiting for something, whether it is a visa or a paycheck, a good or even just a simple answer.”
Members of the audience approached the performance with curiosity as there was no clear indication that a play was taking place. A space within a park was used as the stage although there were no clear markings that this was a theatre performance. The troupe still drew a crowd for the opening show.
Dalia Yassine, a 29-year-old artist and writer, said of the performance: “A few political sentiments were present in the play, both direct and indirect: False power, senseless knowledge, constant suffering and a sense of arrogance and greed.”
“I do find the current visa system to be a discriminatory one. Things are becoming too confined and controlled,” Yassine added.
Another audience member, Alethea Osborne, a 25-year-old researcher in Middle Eastern affairs, said she was surprised to see a performance so close to the embassies. “I think the play raised important concerns and gives insight into the absurdity that many refugees are facing today through the waiting stages of relocation,” she said.
Stage manager Kalyl Kadri, a Lebanese-Brazilian national, said the most difficult part of the process was promoting the event.
“We are completing our degrees but took the initiative to start up a theatre production company [Sweaty Palms Productions] so that we could discuss these sensitive topics on our own terms. This means that we do not have the funds or advantages of more established companies,” Kadri said.
Chreiteh, who is completing a master’s programme in theatre directing at the University of Essex, pointed out that the performance was an attempt to convey the emotion of making it through a very uncertain world.
“We have seen how sometimes people can wait endlessly, how people can be displaced for many generations, living without rights or perspectives in a foreign place that does not seem to really want them,” he said.
He said he recognises the topic is too large to handle in one play but hopes, at the very least, the audience shifts their perceptions on immigration and moves towards a more empathetic approach in dealing with the crisis.
With the rise in the level of social segregation across the world, initiatives such as Chreiteh’s play offer an opportunity for much-needed dialogue and give hope in spaces in which populist politicians cannot intervene.