Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's recent reviews of The Nosebleed and Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches
Each seating area is named after one of the numerous nationalities of the migrants and refugees who have made their way to this camp in Calais, France, hoping eventually to settle in the United Kingdom. Some audience members sit in bleachers off to the sides, overlooking the crowded stage area, while others sit on benches, on dirt floors, within a few feet of the serpentine raised platforms where the actors perform. This is documentary theater taken to an unprecedented level.
More than that, the artistic creators of the work lived this experience in 2015. Playwrights Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson and the members of their company, Good Chance Theatre, spent seven months among the residents of the camp, learning their stories and erecting a geodesic dome on site as a theater space for freedom of expression, creativity and dignity. Later, Good Chance presented The Jungle in London in partnership with the National Theatre and Young Vic; the current production is a partnership with St. Ann's Warehouse, a performance space in Brooklyn, hosted here by the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
First, a note on terminology. The residents called the settlement "Zhangal," a Pashto term for forest, but British aid workers misheard the name as "jungle." The actual location of the site was a former landfill site in Calais in view of highways and the Channel Tunnel to England.
Directors Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin keep the motion constant among the more than 20 cast members through the characters' days in and around the camp, dealing with threats of evictions and disagreements among various factions of residents. Standouts are Ben Turner as Salar, owner of an Afghan restaurant and a community leader; Ammar Haj Ahmad as Safi, who provides running commentary regarding the history of the camp; Parinika "Pari" Dialani (who alternates with Alexandra "Lexie" Abrams) as wide-eyed child Amal, whose escape to the U.K. becomes a priority as life in the Jungle becomes more unstable; Pearce Quigley as Boxer, a rough Englishman with a warm heart and a foul mouth; and Rudolphe Mdlongwa as Okot, a young refugee from Darfur whose story is a major component of the second act.
To add to the immersive experience, Jon Clark's lighting design and Paul Arditti's sound design surround the audience throughout the performance. Videos designed by Tristan Shepherd and Duncan McLean highlight news footage on television screens in the four corners of the stage.
The Jungle runs through April 16, 2023, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.
By Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson