Theatre 503 have done it again. This tiny theatre above a South London pub has once again created a fantastic piece of drama that packs the punch of a West-End heavyweight. This time the theatre tackles Carla Grauls’ new play Occupied; a gritty but hilarious look at immigration in modern Britain.
A young professional wakes up in a grimy, run down public toilet to find two Romanians have kidnapped him to learn how to be English.
Joe Marsh plays Tom Jones, the Englishman who has been kidnapped by two Romanian immigrants and is forced to teach them British idiosyncrasies such as chat up lines, Sunday afternoon rituals and those incredibly bizarre stories in the Daily Mirror.
Marsh gives the actors in the SAW films a run for their money in the opening scene when he wakes up to realise he’s been kidnapped. Marsh quivers and shakes with ferocity as it dawns upon him that he’s been captured and throughout the play he brings a surprising down to earth quality to the role.
His captors, Alex and Andreea, are played by Mark Conway and Josie Dunn. Conway is sparky and has an incredibly exciting physicality to watch. He flies into rages, destroys their ramshackle home and is menacingly threatening, but at the same time has the audience in stitches with his delivery. Dunn brings realism to the role of an underage prostitute that never feels stereotypical; she is both innocent and world-weary. The chemistry between Dunn and Marsh is delicately electrifying and has the audience developing Stockholm Syndrome with the Romanians.
Anna Mors pays meticulous attention to detail when it comes to the actors interaction with each other. From Andreea’s pre-work routine to Alex’s ego boosting mock fighting, Mors draws out the sympathy for Tom’s captors by creating a depressing reality that feels lived in and horrific.
Petra Hjortsberg’s design is horrifying. That is to say that she creates a grim world where the taps leak into buckets, the ceiling is smeared with dirt and newspapers are used as toilet paper.
Carla Grauls has created a witty look at immigration in Britain but the play never feels like a preachy sermon given by a Daily Mail reporter. The characters could have very easily fallen into dramatic constructs, but they are fully formed and absolutely electrifying to watch throughout the action. The ending (no spoilers here!) is everso slightly confusing which leaves the audience with a puzzled look on their face as they leave the theatre. But this is a drop in the otherwise theatrically fantastic ocean.
Occupied plays at Theatre503 until 26 April 2014.
Reviewed by Roz Carter