Hard-hitting, hysterical and obscure, Welcome to the UK provides a voice to the unheard in this brand new piece.
Once I had stepped foot into the Bunker Theatre and was enthusiastically handed a raffle ticket before taking my seat surrounded by deflated balloons, I knew I going to be in for a wild ride.
Welcome to the UK is a satirical play about the process of moving to the UK and the tribulations of visa applications. It was written by Borderline, who have gained a reputation from their first piece of the same name, which is about the Calais Jungle. The company is mostly made up of people who have emigrated or are seeking asylum in the UK meaning that a lot of their work is influenced by the real-life experiences of the company.
When the show began, confusion was my initial reaction. Everything felt very much like Epic Theatre – with larger than life characters and unusual props and sets, with no real through line of a plot. A woman with a cloud on her head representing the Home Office and pig-faced bodyguards were overwhelming to say the least! The show felt disconnected and lost and I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to get anything out of it at all.
It was about halfway through when everything properly started to click with me and I fully understood that all of the bizarre and sometimes, unsettling choices were completely intentional and had a purpose.
The writing was very clever, with lots of tongue-in-cheek humour and references to British culture as well as stereotypes and caricatures of lots of different ethnicities. It reminded me a lot of the surreal writing of shows like Horrible Histories – where the stories are based in truths but lots of creative liberties and embellishments are used for entertainment purposes.
Whilst relying heavily on outlandish humour and cultural references, the performance also provided a fair amount of information about the processes of the Home Office and the hoops that people have to go through in order to secure a visa. I learnt things about the immigration process that I had never been aware of before, such as the invasive ways people are forced to prove their marriages. It was a very eye-opening experience and as someone who probably would never have learnt that information otherwise, I am really pleased to have been educated on the topic.
However the show wasn’t just a bunch of cheap laughs. There were also some moments that were very moving – in which characters shared the fears and horrors that surround them and the difficultly of trying to adjust to a new country. The visual representation of a man waiting for his wife’s visa to be approved was particularly difficult to watch, as he sat on top of ladder, with a “dream” balloon in hand for the entire show. This gave the production a huge amount of heart and showed that the purpose of art like this is for people, to process their hurt as well as to find their humanity.
As heartbreaking as it was at times, the show never felt hopeless, which I think accurately shows the positive attitude that the company maintains in order to keep them going through the face of adversity.
The storyline of Debbie really struck me as especially powerful. The strength and grace she maintained whilst telling her story, both within the piece as well as in the Q&A afterwards, was so moving. She is a true inspiration and it was an honour to have witnessed her story in that way.
The most important aspect of this production is definitely the Q&A session afterwards – which, if you do get to experience this play, is an absolute must. Hearing the company discuss how all of the characters and scenes were created really allowed us, as an audience, to observe how much heart and real-life problems had influenced the piece. It allowed everything to make a lot more sense and without it, I don’t think the play would have had the same impact at all. The connection with the company in that intimate way is needed and I commend Borderline for making that a standard part of their shows.
Overall, Welcome to the UK is certainly a memorable experience. It should be noted that it is an unusual piece of art and doesn’t always entirely make sense however overtime it does start to grow on you. I think it’s power is in its education of topics that go without being discussed. Therefore, if like me, you don’t know much about the Home Office or Asylum seekers, then I’d suggest giving this piece a go and learn about a world on your doorstep that you would otherwise be oblivious to. Thank you Borderline for teaching me – it’s a necessary message that you share and I hope it continues to be spread as far as is possible.
By Emily Schofield
Welcome to the UK continues to play at the Bunker Theatre until the 16th February.