Aug 20 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Empathetic portrayal

Assembly Roxy (Venue 139): Wed 3 – Mon 29 Aug 2022
Review by Tom Ralphs

Silkworm, from Pearlfisher at Assembly Roxy, is the story of Abidemi and Omolade, two asylum seekers living in a Glasgow high-rise tower block while they await decisions on their asylum claims.

It is not just their future in this country, it is the future of their relationship and the future of their lives that is at stake. It is also not just their story, but a story shared with many other refugees in the UK.

Ewa Dina and Antonia Layiwola in Silkworm. Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

As the audience enter the theatre, Abidemi, played by Ewa Dina, and Omolade, played by Antonia Layiwola, are already on stage acting out a domesticated routine that belies the precariousness of their situation. It’s a good touch from director Mojisola Elufowoju as it brings us in to their world and gives an additional context for all that follows.

The play itself switches between scenes set in a Home Office interview room where the two women are interrogated separately about their sexuality, their family and their religion, and scenes set within their flat or at a nightclub that Abidemi frequently visits.

The interviewers are never heard, but it is clear from the answers to the questions that their aim is to look for loopholes and inconsistencies so that their claims can be rejected rather than to hear and understand their stories and experiences.

mild-mannered outrage

It’s not the first time something like this has been done on stage but it doesn’t lessen the impact. Both actors add to it with a mixture of naivety, incomprehension and mild-mannered outrage in the delivery of their responses. The subtlety of the performances makes the characters feel like real people rather than ciphers.

Ewa Dina and Antonia Layiwola in Silkworm. Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

The scenes in the tower block focus on their day to day lives. Omolade is intent on filming them together and submitting staged examples of an ordinary life to the Home Office in support of their claim. This adds an extra layer to the seeming normality of their relationship, as well as to the play. It is a visual device that tells us more about the women and their situation than the dialogue alone could do.

Likewise, the minor details, such as the harsh buzzing of the flat’s intercom that sounds at different times of the day, and a more lengthy conversation about the suicide of the previous occupants of the flat and how the cracks in the pavement several floors below still stand as a testament to their fate, also work to build the story-world without ever resorting to exposition or on the nose political statements.

moving portrayal

Vlad Butucea’s script (one of the winner’s of this year’s ART awards), and Elufowoju’s direction combine to make this a moving portrayal of real people in an unreal situation, highlighting their hopes and fears and the barriers that they are facing. The careful crafting of the play means that nothing is wasted, with excerpts of Omolade’s films returning to give it a particularly poignant ending.

Dina and Layiwola contrast and complement each other superbly with the extravagance and optimism of Dima’s character balanced out by the maturity and caution of Layiwola’s.

It is a snapshot of a relationship rather than the full story, but in the characters it presents, and the hints of the world that they inhabit, it delivers empathy and compassion that could get lost or be overplayed in a lengthier piece.

Running time: One hour and 15 minutes (no interval)
Assembly Roxy (Upstairs), 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU (Venue 139)
Wednesday 3 – Monday 28 August 2022
Daily (not 24): 18.50
Tickets and details: Book here.

Instagram: @pearlfisherscotland
Facebook: @PearlfisherScotland
Twitter: @PearlfisherScot

Antonia Layiwola and Ewa Dina in Silkworm. Pic Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


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