David Greig’s play, Europe, gets its 25th anniversary revival at the Donmar Warehouse, directed by its new Artistic Director, Michael Longhurst. The play was written when Yugoslavia was at war and freedom of movement in Europe was not yet in place.
The play is set in an anonymous border town in the train station where the trains have ceased to stop and no one seems to know why. The stationmaster and his assistant are still turning up for work and discover two strangers in the waiting room. When asked to leave they respond: “this is a waiting room, we are waiting”. These arrivals divide the local population: are they refugees or economic migrants? Some welcome them in, some are quietly suspicious while others are angered by their presence, leading to an explosive finale.
The Donmar Warehouse stage is transformed into a shabby train station; clever use of lighting invokes the speeding trains passing by. The train timetables are attached to boards with drawing pins and a digital information board flashes the scene changes. Luggage trolleys are used to move characters around the set and create locations outside the station. The two levels of stage are used to good effect, especially when presenting parallel conversations between characters.
Many of the cast make their Donmar Warehouse debuts in this production of Europe; this is a strong ensemble. Ron Cook bustles around as Fret, the redundant station master, trying to make sense of the new timetables that no longer apply to his station and forming an unlikely alliance with Sava (Kevork Malikyan), a railwayman from another country who finds himself fleeing from his old life.
Faye Marsay is compelling as Fret’s assistant, Adele. She watches the trains rushing by while dreaming of visiting lands she has never seen. The arrival of enigmatic Katia (Natalia Tena) brings her closer to these distant lands and throws a spotlight on her unhappy marriage with Berlin (Billy Howle).
Berlin and his friends Horse (Theo Barklem-Biggs) and Billy (Stephen Wight) serve to show the simmering anger of young men losing their jobs in the small town and the battle with the decision to stay or go and seek their fortunes elsewhere. Shane Zaza as charismatic Morocco shows the way borders can be exploited; to him, the border is “a magic money line”, and moving items across it increases or decreases their value and makes him rich.
Europe has a lot to say about people, places and the invisible lines of borders on the ground. There are funny moments alongside the darker times; Greig’s writing is powerful and presented here with skill. There are some wordy speeches but it’s worth listening to what’s being said as each character here has something important to say and a powerful story to tell leading to the finale that is a mix of hope and despair.
Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Marc Brenner
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