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Review: Borders, at Arcola Theatre

Stories of photojournalist and Syrian refugee merge in play that takes a light-hearted dig at news culture and media sensationalism

13 December, 2018 — By Elizabeth Sulis Gear

Graham O’Mara in Borders. Photo: Steve Ullathorne

TRAGEDY is most compelling when interwoven with comedy; that’s something Henry Naylor, formerly head writer of Spitting Image, does well.

Borders comprises two alternating monologues between award-winning photojournalist Sebastian Nightingale (Graham O’Mara) and a Syrian female artist and refugee, Nameless (Deniz Arixenas), whose stories gradually merge.

News coverage of the refugee crisis is often limited to harrowing images of suffering and mass statistics that fail to hone in on individual narratives. Nameless is a defiant young graffiti artist who must flee the Assad regime, and one of thousands seeking safe passage across the Mediterranean.

Along comes Sebastian, a recent graduate, well-intentioned, but with a naive hero complex as he views the crisis through his lens. His is a privileged existence. Through his narrow focus, he describes locals as dull, and reminds the audience of news’s secondary purpose as entertainment when he says he needs more people to die. The success that photographing Osama Bin Laden brings him prior to 9/11 allows his “art” to devolve into photographing celebrities for capital gain.

Both Arixenas and O’Mara are wholly convincing in their roles, which juxtapose; hers is heavy and serious, his light and very funny. Her plight is reduced to a still image, with which the photographer can continue to climb ladders. Watching the two stories unfold, it becomes clear how the photojournalist profits from others’ suffering, while those portrayed lose everything.

Naylor achieves a light-hearted dig at news culture and media sensationalism, and the manner in which the West capitalises on tragedy in the Middle East. As thousands still make the dangerous crossing between North Africa and the Mediterranean, Borders is timely.

020 7503 1646


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