The doors shut. The lights shift ever so subtly and a man in a rain coat walks to the front of the audience. He pauses and the silence stretches for what seems like hours, and so begins a very stressful seventy five minutes.
The Claim is an exploration of the process of seeking refuge in the UK, taking place inside an interview to determine whether an asylum seeker will be allowed to stay or be sent back to the DRC. The man in the raincoat swiftly becomes Serge, an immensely likeable, eloquent young man whose desperation to tell his story is only matched in intensity by the incompetence, hostility and suspicion of the bureaucrats he is attempting to tell it to.
The interview starts light-heartedly, as Serge and interrogator A attempt to reminisce about childhood favourite novels and share gummy snakes, but even here the gulf between them is obvious and misunderstandings abound. The entry of cold, detached interrogator B forces the interview into more serious territory and as it unfolds, Serge’s words are increasingly mangled with dire consequences.
The actors are excellent. Nick Blakeley and Yursa Warsama are very convincing as the two interrogators, with Blakeley in particular bringing many moments of humour to what would otherwise be an overwhelmingly tense production. However, it is Ncuti Gatwa as Serge who gives the standout performance, full of warmth and intelligence – the audience is firmly on his side within minutes.
Unfortunately the script itself is a little dense, and at times moves at a rather slow pace. Given that watching the interview unfold is painful, incredibly frustrating viewing, this threatened in places to tip the balance towards unbearable; and certain interludes between the two interrogators felt unnecessarily long. The sound design could also be a little intrusive at times; the ominous music of the scene changes trying to overplay a tension that, believe me, the audience was already feeling.
All in all though, The Claim is an imaginative and linguistically clever response to the stories of asylum seekers in the UK. It’s mission to provoke outrage and frustration at the bureaucratic system is very effective, and the fate of Serge and others like him is sure to be on your mind long after the play is over.
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