Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
In the dead of night, a rickety bus speeds through a country at war with itself. The aim of the passengers on board is to get beyond the border and on a plane that will take them somewhere that’s supposed to be safer. What happens when they get there, however, is anybody’s guess.
Sound familiar? If so, bear in mind that poet Nick Makoha’s auto-biographical play, commissioned and produced by Ovalhouse and Fuel, charts events that happened more than forty years ago, when Idi Amin’s despotic regime in Uganda came crashing down, creating turmoil in its wake. With just two actors, an overhead projector and a design by Rajha Shakiry that contains all the messy clutter of lives and worlds in rocky motion, Roy Alexander Weise’s production makes flesh a noisy maelstrom of eternal passengers seeking sanctuary.
At the heart of what becomes a kind of dramatic suite of interlinked stopping-off points is a four-year-old Makoha and his mother, brought to life along with others observed at close range by Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry. As stories and characters dip in and out of view, the light and shade of the quote from Paradise Lost that emblazons the screen like slogans smeared onto a steamed-up window becomes increasingly lucid in terms of higher meaning.
For all the life-changing nature of Makoha’s journey over the play’s eighty-five-minute duration, it is its final moments that hit home the most. It is a scene which points to every latter-day sensationalist headline spelling out how it is for asylum-seeking refugees in terms of detention, leave to remain and having to justify a truth that will go on to define them forever after. In the current global fallout, in which borders, walls and lives on the run are in the thick of even more hyperbole, Makoha’s play is a poignant reminder of how being caught in a crossfire not of your making can leave its mark for life.
The Herald, February 13th 2019