In a way, each theater performance is a temporary community. From a tourist-packed house at Hamilton to hipsters squeezed into a 45-seat black box, each show requires strangers to share space and get along. So The Jungle, which lands at St. Ann’s Warehouse for a limited engagement after an acclaimed run in London’s West End, really resonates: It’s all about strangers coming together, trying to make a home out of a foreign place.
The play was inspired by the so-called Calais Jungle, Europe’s largest unofficial refugee camp in France. By the time the camp was dissolved in October 2016, it had become home to as many as 10,000 people from Sudan, Iran, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and other countries roiled by civil war, poverty, or ethnic violence.
British artists Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson worked at the camp for seven months, helping to found the Good Chance Theatre for the residents, where they were able to share the live art of their cultures: Iranian stand-up comedy, Ethiopian circus, and traditional song and dance.
When they returned to England, Murphy and Robertson knew they had to turn their life-changing experience into transformative theater. Partnering with directors Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) and Justin Martin (The Crown), they created The Jungle, a kind of immersive refugee vaudeville. Even though you’ll see plenty of entertaining acts—including a dynamic kung fu demonstration by Iran-born Yasin Moradi—there is a plot. It’s an ongoing debate as to whether the Calais Jungle is viable as a community, and if not, what options the tired and frustrated refugees have.
The audience sits at long tables, which serve as runwaylike platforms for the performers. The unit set for The Jungle is a meticulous re-creation of the Afghan Café, a popular destination in the camp. Adding to the docudrama-like authenticity of the show, producers cast refugees who had lived in the camp and immigrated to England to perform in the show. As has been reported elsewhere, the performers didn’t have an easy time jumping through bureaucratic hoops to get to Brooklyn. They should be careful; we may love them so much, we won’t let them go home.
Why You Should Go: A joyous affirmation of the human spirit, The Jungle will make you see the global refugee crisis with new eyes.
St. Ann’s Warehouse
45 Water Street (at New Dock Street), Brooklyn
Through Sunday, January 27, 2019