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Show Review - Illegal

Updated: Aug 14, 2019

ILLEGAL by Jessica Phillippi

Scandal Theatre in association with Riotbox Productions 


‘Illegal’ is the tale of two women with very different stories bonded by a common theme - they are both living in what only a few years ago we would have considered an almost dystopian world. With barriers rising (physically in some cases) at borders across the globe and anti-immigration sentiment on the rise in the west, Jessica Phillippi’s play tackles the issue that nobody wants to talk about head on. 

Telling the story of Meg - an American woman trying her hardest to make a living in Scotland and Patri- a Gautamalan girl slowly finding herself being drawn into a darker and darker world of human trafficking, this is a tale that really goes to the heart of the matter. One woman tied up in the senseless bureaucracy of the UK passport system, another taking the life of herself and her loved ones into further danger every minute the play goes on. With the action unfolding in relay, developing episodically over the hour we see these two miraculous women dealing with an extremely unjust world. 

The performances from Phillippi (who as well as writer was also co-producer for the show) and Elena Larios, playing Patri, are almost flawless, which given the constant shifts in character and accent for them (often within the space of just a few seconds) is remarkable. This is a show which has been exceptionally well rehearsed and it is a credit to the direction of Heather Knudtsen that the flow of the piece, with it’s countless chapters, runs so smoothly and never feels jolted. 

It is this mesh of quality stagecraft and great acting that really makes this show work so well. Subtle changes in light, a terrific underscore and a simple yet effective set made of pillars of immigration papers all combine with the character stories to give real sense of immediacy to the play. There is an underlying sense throughout of the unspoken - those who should not be named   - and indeed other than a passing mention to former PM and all round immigration panto villain Theresa May, those major players in the western world’s current fascination with populism are rightly not given a namecheck. (Why give them the stage time?)

This is a real credit to the writing. The presidential bashing merry go round is unsurprisingly a well trodden and in some cases easy score at this festival - but here there are wider issues - of family, of a broken society and of how real lives are affected by the ever more extreme daily rhetoric. No-one has the time or inclination to mention HIM. 

The conclusion of the show is not, you will be surprised to hear a happy one - leaving the audience feeling a little bit of dissonance with the two lead characters. Why should SHE have a different outcome from her? Where is the justice in that? Where is the parity across our borders? Why does somebody not DO something?

‘Illegal’ left me, I don’t mind saying it, a little bereft. There are very few times where I see a piece which leaves me feeling powerless but when a story which is so much about big government putting the boot in on single people in the name of ‘the greater good’ - it leaves you angry. Angry that we allowed ourselves to sleepwalk to where we are, angry that it’s not top of everyone’s agenda - angry that there seems to be very little in the immediate future that as individuals we’ll be able to do about it. 

Perhaps, as history tells us, this is just a dark episode - that the fate of our characters is not going to be a continued story into the future. ‘Illegal’ should be a rallying cry to all to stand up and be counted. 

Which is exactly why you need to go and see it. 

‘Illegal’ is playing at the Underbelly, Cowgate until 25th Aug at 12:00pm



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