Review: The Jungle (Playhouse Theatre, London)

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All images by Marc Brenner

Spend any time on social media and you will see how diversity and inclusion have been spun into dirty words. Only this week, an ex-reality TV, turned sacked talk radio person tweeted a couple of videos roaming unnamed streets asking if followers could #GuessTheCountry. It was of course England, in the city of London. The videos contained people from all walks of life wandering through a market and another one was taken from a moving vehicle of a high street full of restaurants and shops representing various nationalities. Her point? Too narrow-minded, ignorant and uneducated to warrant any further discussion here.

In that very same city, at London’s Playhouse Theatre, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s The Jungle is post-transfer and mid-run from the Young Vic in their National Theatre/Good Chance Theatre collaboration. The Jungle of the title is the Calais refugee camp that dominated the news cycle until it was ripped down by French authorities in 2016.

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Under the direction of Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, The Jungle starts at the end with the loss of one of the residents and the legal and administrative chaos that led to the tearing down of the camp. In going back to the beginning, we witness how people from so many disparate nations came to be in the one place: not only seeing how they assimilate but also negotiate and facilitate a lifestyle in amongst the chaos. Rising from the ashes of a landfill site, the Calais Jungle housed a school, a church, a theatre and thousands of people. At the heart of Murphy and Robertson’s Jungle is Salar’s Afghan Cafe.

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Filling the theatre with incredible smells, The Jungle is as ‘cleverly crafted and wholly unexpected’ as the chicken liver dish AA Gill wrote about in The Times during his visit to Calais. From the beginning, in amongst the bedlam, fear and pain there is hope and humanity. When a lost child wanders into the camp, she is welcomed with open arms and given a roof over her head. When two people from warring nations come face to face, they see beyond their country’s fight and negotiate a shared experience.  Despite everything, there is hope.

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There is also humour. In establishing the ever-growing city, you put a Syrian, an Etonian and a Geordie in the same space and the results are often as funny and as charming as the set up promises and that is the true skill of The Jungle: heart. This show is brimming with love and humanity. The cast integrate and communicate as well as their encampment counterparts, functioning on a day-to-day basis better than most so-called developed nations despite having not one, but two governments metaphorically and literally steamrollering over them. A salient lesson in the power of the community.

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Hope drives the community forward through arrival, hurdles, setbacks as well as through moments of reflection and celebration. Whilst the second half can feel at times a little heavy-handed, especially after the roller coaster of a first half, The Jungle is a cohesive whole that calls for an end to the virtue signalling of retweeting and liking and demands action. We can and should do everything within our power to do more, say more and inhabit more.

Production elements align with a wonderful set transforming an old Victorian theatre into the heart of the Calais city. The cast inhabit their roles using theatrical alchemy, channelling these beautiful people through their magnificent performances.

The Jungle is theatre at its best: transformative and wholly enveloping. It sucker punches you whilst it is happening and it blooms long after you have left the makeshift Jungle. I was a late arrival. Don’t miss the boat. It’s beautiful.

The Jungle runs until 3rd November 2018. Tickets and further information can be found via the National Theatre website .

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