by Laura Kressly
Elif has come to a picturesque island nation as a child seeking a better life, and finds work as a shepherdess charged with minding a landowner’s flock of sheep. Though the tyrant landowner brazenly uses her power and Elif’s undocumented status to exploit her, she quietly gets on with her job and waits for the King’s administration to process her citizenship application. This simply-written fable by Sami Ibrahim depicts an old-fashioned, magical country with an immigration system that parallels Britain’s, with an aim to critique the hostile environment. Though there are some lovely individual moments, the story is slow and often stagnant, and the political commentary clumsy and heavy-handed.
As played by Sara Hazemi, Elif’s a charming and honest woman who loves fiercely and wants to be one of the king’s citizens, but time ticks on and her patience is whittled down. Hazemi captures this character arc beautifully with a delicate performance, and helps counter the sluggish script. The other characters (Princess Khumalo and Samuel Tracy) are far less detailed, so it’s on Hazemi to flesh out the world she moves in as best as she can.
The administrative systems Elif has to navigate in order to naturalise are deliberately engineered to cause catastrophic damage to her and her family. Though this generates some conflict, it’s largely between Elif and faceless bureaucracy. This is accurate, but theatrically it’s not enough to push the action forward. That Elif and her daughter are trapped in a system requiring years of waiting is again a truthful depiction of the visa system. However, the Beckettian plot means this well-intentioned political play more tedious than not.
A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain runs through 28 August.
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