The inside of an Immigration Detention Centre doesn’t immediately suggest a volley of laughs, but Chris MacDonald’s Eye of a Needle at the Southwark Playhouse has just that — along with plenty of tears, gripping drama and vibrant characters.
The well-styled set of waiting room chairs, ringing telephones and harsh lighting sets the scene well, with tension building in the air well before the action starts. The story then centres around the impossible situation on both sides of the immigration debate – the UK government workers who have strict quotas to stick to, and the people seeking a better life in the UK, the latter with an array of hilarious, ridiculous and, more often than not, heartbreaking stories. Prepare for fiery clashes, punchy dialogue and empathy towards both sides of the table.
Things start gently with an obviously made up ‘fake gay’ story involving an epically funny sketch detailing the ‘rusty trombone.’ This was the first role from actor Ekow Quartey, who also played other, more serious, characters just as effectively.
Laura Cairns and Stephen Hudson’s portrayal of over-worked civil servants are starkly realistic — you may have friends who are just like them in London. However the heart of this production lies in the drama between Laurence (Nic Jackman) and Natale (Ony Uhiara). Their ever-changing relationship is gripping, with Uhiara’s constant fluctuation between powerful and powerless, both thrilling and crushing to watch.
The second act is at times a bit preachy — especially some of the longer dialogues between Laurence and Ted. But there are strong messages here and, overall, writer Chris MacDonald succeeds in bringing them clearly to light.
The pieces of physical theatre between scenes offers a refreshing glance at the inner workings of the characters and helps keep the pace moving. The production hits hard often and is a very watchable blend of politics, humour and human spirit.
Eye of a Needle is on at the Southwark Playhouse until 20 September. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.