A body falls from the sky, landing in a B&Q car park near Heathrow. Frozen, it explodes on impact. The event makes the news, and is quickly forgotten by everyone other than those directly involved. Andy was getting out of his car when the body landed in front of him. Lisa, a writer, was on that plane. Debbie is Andy’s wife, who has minimal patience for Andy’s trauma. And then there’s Adi, the poetic, aspirational man who fell. The threads of these people’s stories weave through news broadcasts about India’s new space programme that will place the struggling country amongst the world’s elite. Stowaway places Adi’s life in a global context whilst simultaneously giving detail and vibrancy to one of thousands of people who died in their attempts to make a better life. Moving and powerful, the script says a lot in its one act but tries to say too much in the time it has.
A scaffold plane, like a cross section of a whale’s rib cage, holds the plane’s passengers (legitimate and otherwise). This skeleton is also a coastal Indian village, Andy and Debbie’s middle class house, a cafe and B&Q’s car park. Hannah Barker and Lewis Hetherington’s writing and transitions quickly clear up any ambiguity, as does their clever use of angular metal chairs to create a range of sculptural forms acting as furniture and buildings and, well, chairs. The strong metallic lines have the shimmering permanence of skyscrapers the character’s lack – a canny metaphor that fits well with the script’s style and intent.
Barker and Hetherington thoroughly examine various sides of the refugee debate through their characters. Adi (Devesh Kishore) wants to see the world and send money home to his family. Andy (Steven Rae) and Debbie (Balvinder Sopal) have a comfortable Western life together, more concerned with their daughter’s progress at school and DIY than the rest of the world. Lisa (Hannah Donaldson) is a successful author who has all the good, liberal intentions of giving voice to the oppressed, but as a privileged white woman, she is limited in experience and access to the research and stories she seeks. The four are excellent microcosmic representations of a good portion of the world that’s more or less likeable, though the extremely conservative, ant-immigration sort are noticeably absent. Their exclusion makes the story more palatable, though a voice from this side could potentially serve to rally greater support to the inclusive left. With or without, the characters and their responses to Adi’s death are powerful political messages.
There are a few brief movement sequences that, though lovely in their Frantic Assembly-like fluidity, are so infrequent that they don’t contribute much other than breaking up the emotionally intense writing that is the best feature of this show. More would be welcome. Moments of detailed description devastate; only the hardest of hearts could resist Adi’s charm and poetry that grows from a daydreaming child to a motivated young man. Disconnected telly interview fragments on India’s upcoming Mars mission and the country’s aspirations to be taken seriously cleverly mirror Adi’s hopes for himself and his family, and also obviously question why a nation is launching a rocket when so many of it’s people are destitute – though this doesn’t just apply to India.
Blatantly political, Stowaway uses its well-developed characters to loudly declare support for economic migrants. It’s an emotionally draining but important production, though it could use lengthening in order to make the storyline less dense and convoluted. The performances are good vehicles for the characters’ messages and the scripts’ positive emotional manipulation has potential to be a powerful catalyst for change if the play could be compulsory viewing for the Western populace.
Stowaway runs through 30 April.
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