Knock-knock! Occupied!

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I entered the theatre expecting something totally different from what I was about to watch… You know … those mind fabricated images anticipating certain situations. I was expecting a small space, heavily decorated and in a very bad state. My goodness!

It felt as if I was put into a trance for a few seconds: I pictured fields of gipsies from my home country, their tents and the macabre dirt they would live in. Cold drops running down my spineand a feverish disgust were present, too. This made mereassess for a couple of secondswhether to stay or leave since this scenario was not something I wanted to see again. Not again…

Indeed, the title of the play says it all: I feel like I’m about to laugh. Gipsies abusively occupying spaces and taking them as theirs. It was clear I was about to watch a theatre play on stereotypes. Then a girl on the stage started singing “Rule Britannia” and put me in such a mood that I decided to stay. And it was worth it!

Ironically or not, everything started from a Daily Mail article. Many Romanians living in Great Britain call it the Daily Fail, since it failed, in so many cases, to provide news reflecting correct information on Romania and its people. The fury of Romanians and Gipsies directedatthe tabloid wasmade visible though,in “Occupied”,a play by Carla Grauls.

Two Romanian immigrants motivated by the need to belong, Andreea and Alex, decide to kidnap an Englishman to teach them the English way of life.

The action takes place in a derelict Victorian public toilet. “Occupied” is a black comedy about the identity crisis and the struggle of a new beginning.

The room was suddenly taken over by the loud sound of a patriotic songsung with desperation and contempt by Andreea, the female character involved in the kidnapping.

Background Josie Dunn (Andrea) and front Joe Marsh (Tom) in Occupied at Theatre503 Photographer Anna Kacprzyk (1)

„Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves

Britons never will be slaves… ”

Alex comes out of the toilet annoyed, holding the Daily Mail in his hand, waving it acrossand screaming at the top of his lungs: “Romanians in London! Immigrants invade Britain! Andreea! Let’s celebrate!”

Tom, the kidnapped Englishman, has his arms and legs tied up and a rag over his mouth. The walls of the toilet are almost entirely covered in newspapers displaying The Sun’s and The Daily Mail’s articles about Romanians.

The invasion hysteria is a phenomenon which took over the English tabloids from 2007, once Romania entered the European Union. Populist, pejorative and unjust titles were running against Romania since, in a similar way to what happened on the1st of January 2014, when the work restrictions in the UK were removed for Romanians and Bulgarians.

The play runflawlessly, on well documented details about both nations.The communism’s inherited frustrations give the male character Alex, the Romanian, a strong personality sharing his memories to a public able to better understand this waythe marks left by history. The end of the play cannot be anticipated, but ratherstudied afterwards. A whole psychology of the individual comes forth to turn thetheatre play into a real success. The inspired choice of actors – Mark Conway (Alex), Josie Dunn (Andreea), Fiz Marcus (Elena, homeless woman who appears sporadically) and Joe Marsh (Tom) — managed to send me back in time with such an impact that I only woke up to reality at the end of the show.

 

occupied-editat

Accepting identity or denying mentalities are individual issues, therefore success and failure derives from our approach to this. It even made me wipe a tear.

***

Tom, the English man

”A seaside town in the North West. Funfairs, pony rides, pigeon-fanciers, transvestites, heroin addicts, sex shops, hens and stags, people getting bladdered, fighting in the streets, shagging like monkeys. Blackpool. That’s where I am from. My mum used to say there was something about the sea air that makes men mad, turns them mental. People jump from high rises, one went down holding a Union Jack. That’s English for you. You don’t get much more English than Blackpool. In a few years, there will be nothing there. Everyone will have buggered off to Spain on a cheap flight to start a new life of sunburn and sangria. (…) Men with skulls and demons on their arms, “I love mum”, hearts and arrows, a lifetime of pain.Girls in nothing but their pants and bra standing outside strip clubs in below zero. Nothing’s written in their stars. The place is crumbling, no future.

(…) The English life? I’ll tell you all about it. It’s like a rope pulling tighter and tighter around you. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. (…) ”

Alex, the gipsy

“Bullets.People hiding.Soldiers coming down the streets.

My father come home with blood on his hands. He is wearing his uniform. I hear my mother telling him that the woman never wanted the boy anyway, she say they had too many children. The bullet was never meant for him. My father left the body of the child on the step of his mother. The boy was my friend. Mircea. My father, he never killed anyone before. Don’t tell Alex, my mother said.

My mother had Communism in her blood. She was party leader at the factory. In the night, I find her in bath. Cut on her arms. Dead.

You ask me what I see in 1989 and I tell you. It was a failed revolution. We are still poor. Any way we can get out, we do (…)”

L-R Josie Dunn (Andrea), Joe Marsh (Tom) and Mark Conway (Alex) in Occupied at Theatre503 Photographer Anna Kacprzyk

***

“I had just returned from Romania to a Britain in the grip of Eastern European invasion hysteria, in 2007. It was everywhere (well, in the Sun and Daily Mail). I found more stories about Eastern Europeans occupying little pieces of London: a ‘super loo’ in Hackney, a garden shed, a family occupying a house when people were on holiday. In most of the articles, there was an amicability about the Romanians, from the man who introduced himself the woman who owned the shed he was squatting in to the family who offered the home owner a cup of tea when she returned from holiday (while wearing her clothes). It was comedy but with something darker at its core.

Informed by my own experiences of immigration and my time in Romania I began to write Occupied. I am very happy that Occupied was selected to be part of Labfest. The director, Anna, and cast have really brought it to life, making it funnier and darker than I could have ever imagined” (Carla Grauls).

 

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