Guerrilla theatre performance reimagines immigration

Sunday 16/04/2017
Insight into absurdity. The reinterpretation of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” performed in London’s Kensington Gardens. (Nadine Sayegh)

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.