A play worth talking about that is currently touring around the UK is The Claim, written by Tim Cowbury and directed by Mark Maughan. On the surface, The Claim is simple. Two refugee admissions officers interview an asylum seeker from the Congo, who lied on his way into the country. In its presentation, it is very much minimalist. Three actors, one scene, negligible props.
The simplicity of the viewing experience combined with the shortness of the play were effective in keeping everything very much focused. The crux of the plot centres around the breakdown of communication between ‘Serge’, the refugee, and the officers, credited as ‘A’ and ‘B’. At times, it was a lack of clarity between Serge and A, who acted as translator. At other times, it came as a clash of experience.
It is in this breakdown that the play attempts to convey its questions, and, in part, succeeds in doing so. There is a conscious awkward, uncomfortableness throughout the play, lying in the shadow of the ignorance and mistakes made by A and B. At moments it was funny and, at other times, unsettling, even sinister. Serge’s comments that he is ‘sorry’ that he does not have a fairy tale story, or A saying that one cannot ‘speak and listen at the same time’, are small reflections of the play as a whole, as Serge’s truth is silenced by the chatty babbling of A or the authoritarian questioning of B.
It is clear what the play attempts to do, yet the way it does this is anything but clear. The characters are trapped in a bubble of time, independent from the outside world. Whilst the surrealist technique of making an entire production without any sense of time is, artistically, a triumph – one which deals with such overt themes of racism, displacement, and belongingness could benefit from having a foot in the wider world: a setting beyond that of the confines of the prison cell Serge is kept in.
Whilst the play promotes intensity through the minimalist setting, and limited number of characters, it does not consider the scope of the refugee crisis, neither does it showcase the impact of cultural factors on a day-to-day, prolonged, basis – since there are no days. The play remains an exercise in wordplay, succeeding in being a successful experiment in extremities whilst failing to be the concrete whole the issue demands.