FRINGE THEATRE – Borders – The Studio at Holden Street Theatres – 5K

Borders_0163_photo-by-steve-ullathorne-850x455Alexander Ewers

I am going to lay aside the mantle of reviewer for a moment and speak subjectively. I saw this show twice – such is its impression on mind and soul, and such its theatrical impact that once was not sufficient to adequately fathom this union of peerless production and artistic transcendence. And confirming these sentiments, the experience relived was not in the least diminished.

Borders, the latest play by the acclaimed Henry Naylor,  is an unapologetically political performance, but free of any unpalatable polemics. Superficially it is about the Syrian refugee crisis. In reality, it is a masterful commentary on the human condition and a call to action – globally, institutionally, but most of all personally.

Two vastly disparate plots unfold on stage, each echoing parallel motifs while yet running utterly counterpoint to the other. Avrital Lvova plays Nameless, a Syrian artist caught up in the maelstrom of civil war, who turns to the medium of graffiti to express her art politically. Graham O’Mara is Sebastian, a youthful human-interest photojournalist who loses himself to the financially generous but cerebrally impoverished world of celebrity photography. Both are undeniably accomplished artists. Both ultimately find themselves in a struggle for survival. And yet their journeys and choices stand in stark contrast. Nameless weaponises her art to fight for her beliefs, for right and wrong, and ultimately for her life. Sebastian barters the power of the photographer for the fatuity of fame. Nameless physically faces death even as she seeks life. Sebastian must confront real life to discover a paralysing moribundity of soul. These two stories, worlds apart, converge dramatically in the dying moments of the show. But they do not intersect – whether they touch or not is a decision left to each viewer, arbiters of a solemn responsibility.

Theatrically, Borders is in every way breath-takingly sublime. The stage is bare other than two stools – props have no place in the domain of imagination. Lighting is the only embellishment, and that is done so marvellously that it allows for seamless transfer between the two performers and their plots, while beguiling the mind into seeing moon and sun, darkness and flame. This is literature made alive; a masterpiece crafted in lavish language. The imagery is so rich, the attention to detail so scrupulous, the monologues so compelling that Syria and Afghanistan, Homs and London, pious mother and even virtuous Angelina Jolie are rendered tangible and alive and present. This is the true achievement of the performance. There is no Avrital or Graham. There is Nameless and there is Sebastian, and we are visitors in their worlds, not they in ours.

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Thematically, it is an experience that must necessarily touch the soul … or otherwise expose a chilling callousness. The juxtapositions painted are devastating. The superfluity of affluence and an addiction to the meaningless is contrasted with the clarity of purpose forged from a desperate battle for survival in a country rending itself apart. A culture where personal prestige is paramount, versus a hell where life itself is at stake. Sebastian’s light-hearted and droll jocularity serves to accentuate these divorced realities, simultaneously balancing and highlighting the dark and grim tones of life in Syria and the political undertones presented. The dichotomy is convicting – it demands a response. How personal that response may be is the province of each individual.

“A good painter pleases the eye; a good artist touches the soul”. Graham O’Mara and Avrital Lvova are artists. Borders is artistry. Spectacular and spine-tingling. Soul-piercing and self-examining. It transports the viewer to other worlds, but ultimately speaks to this our world. One compelling quote leaves its final weighted impression, spoken to one grown comfortable with “doing nothing”. “Nothing is a choice…. Nobody asked you to save the world. Only to save yourself.”

Kryztoff Rating 5K

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