They shake on crammed holds in damp clothes, frightened or, more likely, shell shaken… flashes of torture haunt scarred hands… some cold memory of wrecked home.
And it is talk of ‘home’, a search for its definition, that opens the first of the three plays of 9 Million and Counting. “Rootedness,” one voice defines. “A place where I feel safe,” another says, uncertain. These voices, recordings of actual people interviewed by the playwrights, seem removed or distant from the experience of the refugees these plays highlight. Whereas these people struggle like any other native Britannic might over so artless a question as what ‘home’ means, the audience knows that refugees struggling for safety have far less certainty in instability. A surprising tactic, use of actual recorded voices, interviews, and articles verbatim extends throughout these three plays to create a fragmentary effect. They form collages of perspectives looming over the actors, often possessing them. This is reflects that crushing immobility of our digitalised age, as those interviewed also seem mired by constant distraction… these new technologies that purportedly open a wider world consciousness actually, in contradiction, demobilise. This is most effectual in the first two plays, Where The Heart Is and You Were Saying?, which are akin to tragedies with a few comedic elements. The third, The Swarm, is the satyr play, a comedy with tragic elements drawn from news updates, seeming burlesque at times.
To create these plays, the writers locked themselves in a room for a week from seven in the morn to nine at night… their chosen theme being ‘migration’. What they created is, undoubtedly, the product of much research and hard work. The choreography is excellent, the special effects and ambient music atmospheric, and long lines remembered well, several actors evoking a true feel of despair. There is repetition of material through the plays, but this only means their shared political message is framed in different ways. Ethical qualms may arise with the caricature of the interviewees, which becomes excessive in The Swarm. The playwrights, however, argue that they took the essence of these individuals and tried to stay true to them. Two of the interviewees reportedly came to see the play, so it is likely a safe assertion that they and the writers are on good terms. Overall, it is a very good production that is worth viewing or, at the very least, paying for since 50% of the profits will go to Refugee Action York.