Cruel Britannia

Lily James sees clarity and the bravery to call out stupidity in No Human is Illegal

No Human is Illegal is a sincere and open-armed 20 minutes. It's pretty unusual for a play to look out at its audience and say, “We didn't know anything. We disco danced while Aleppo burned.”

The performers radiate a purpose that means more to them than their guilt. They stretch their hands out to the audience, rather than wringing them.

There are places where the assembly blocks are stale: the use of "Spiegel im Spiegel: 2" is sentimental and familiar. The dictionary onstage could go too: I trust their processes and don't need to be convinced by the prop.

But where it's new, it's as sharp and painfully fresh as lemon in a paper cut. The lip-synced public hall meeting is so great because it does pick a side.

It's brave. It doesn't pretend at impartiality, it says what’s hateful and what's stupid. 

Their use of footage is sensitive and appropriate. I particularly commend using footage of the child Aya being saved from the rubble as well as that of the death of Alan Kurdi. They resist the impulse to grieve their audience into inaction.  

The beauty of the images of migrating birds is refreshing. The language of refugee movement is perpetually ugly: a swarm (David Cameron), a bowl of skittles (Donald Trump Jnr). Leyton Sixth Form College find a smarter, softer metaphor.

There are moments where the physical theatre is melodramatic: the image of bodies dropping to the ground is strong enough that they don’t need one performer to crawl too.

But the images they create of trucks full of breathing bodies are superb. As are their wave movements. It’s clear when they sing the national anthem that Britannia rules the waves that flood the boats.

The simplicity of their rationale (if we have food, we have room, if we have cash, we have room) is powerful in its optimism and conscious refusal to be hectored. This is clarity, not naivety. 

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Photo credit: Giulia Delprato