On Arriving, VAULT Festival

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by Emma Lamond

This play is a confronting and heartbreaking window into the human resilience, strength and determination of people caught up in conflict, and forced to migrate and seek refuge in another country.

Sophia Eleni is a tour-de-force in this role; she pulls the audience in and keeps them captivated throughout the piece. We laugh when she laughs, and cry with her, too. Her portrayal of a young refugee woman is unflinching in its presentation of the difficult decisions people on this journey have to make, and the lasting impact these decisions have on her character’s mental health.

The performance has a disjointed and non-linear narrative, which serves two purposes. The first is to juxtapose the heartbreaking journey Eleni’s character undertakes, with the joyful moments from her past. This is a useful device, as a linear narrative would be wholly bleak and depressing. Another effect of muddling the scenes in this order is that the audience is confused and forced to navigate uncertain territory. This – although mildly – mirrors the confusion and uncertainty spoken of in the piece. It also  demonstrates the concentration and attention needed to make the harrowing and difficult decisions Eleni’s character speaks of. Whist the focus required by the audience in no means equates to the traumatic and impossible decisions refugees must make on their journeys, presenting the story in this manner adds to the sense of uncertainty that is spoken of in the piece.

The technical elements throughout are thoughtful, and add a further dimension to the piece. The projection is both beautiful and overwhelming, and it engulfs the audience with the emotion of the piece. This, coupled with Eleni’s stellar performance, create a sense of unease and shock in the audience, furthering the emotional impact.

At times, the technical elements drive the story, with a change in lighting ending a scene and beginning the next. This decision further highlights the lack of agency Eleni’s character has over her narrative, and more widely, how limited refugees are in making positive decisions on their journeys.

In On Arriving, Ivan Faute discusses the nature of volunteers in refugee camps, and argues that they are hungry. This hunger is for the trauma and the stories of loss that the people they are supporting have experienced. This framing of the situation is rarely considered, and turns reflection inwards.  By extension of the question in this piece, the audience are encouraged to reflect on why they chose to attend this performance – what was it they wanted to gain? The notion that the audience might be there to watch trauma porn is an unsettling thought, but a necessary and important reflection for those of us privileged enough to not have experience of the subject matter.

On Arriving combines beautiful storytelling with a talented performance, and should be seen by all audiences – but particularly those who do not yet understand the necessary lengths that refugees must go to to flee their home country, for their own safety.

One Arriving runs through 9 February.

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