Originally published on Exeunt
A temporary haven and a place that tries to make the transition between countries that little bit easier. Or, a highly specialised prison and a metaphorical wall designed to prevent those that have no legal right to be in the country from entering. Beatrice (Clare Perkins) runs an immigration removal centre and is determined to train her officers to be more compassionate, less violent and ultimately create a more welcoming space for young women whilst their fate is decided by Whitehall. Her staff, the Removal Men, either try to empathise as a means of making the journeys easier, or they try to justify their jobs as part of a fundamentally broken system.
M.J. Harding and Jay Miller combine injustice and reality, the extraordinary and the mundane in this powerful new work. In its premiere at the Yard Theatre, The Removal Men examines the abilities of ‘jailers’ to follow the rules and emotionally detach from those whose lives are in the palms of their hands.
Both officers are fragmented and unhinged, balanced on a precipice and about to step into the void of insanity. George (Barnaby Power) fully embraces the ‘Compassionate Officer’ programme and explores himself wholeheartedly – from butt plugs to sock puppets. His initial reluctance to take the plunge has an endearing quality. Power effortlessly switches between light-hearted relief and crippling self-doubt in a complicated and layered performance. Mo (Mark Field) starts with a deadpan expression, a gaze of such intensity as to pin the audience to their seats. Danger dances in his eyes and elements of psychopathy pervade his being, only to be counteracted by periods of extreme emotion – anger and rage are constantly bubbling below the surface.
As The Removal Men progresses, the reason Mo teeters on the edge is all too apparent – a prisoner at the Centre that he has crossed both a professional and emotional line with. It takes the combined efforts of George’s empathy and Beatrice’s professional candidness to diffuse a dangerous situation. The boss here is a convincing viper, a friend in times of need but ultimately a manager trying to keep the mad house from tearing itself apart. Right from the start, when all three performers stand exposed in their underwear, Beatrice is tested by her employees.
The production values of this play are expertly judged, pulling out key themes and adding different dimensions that drive The Removal Men forward. Harding and Jonah Brody’s music draws on inspiration from British hip-hop, garage and electro. The songs have a droning quality, they are spoken word exercises with a monotony that juxtaposes their multi-layered content. The actors are not singers, but they deliver a truth to the lyrics that transcends musicality. Innovative and jarring, the end of the show pulsates with rhythmic clicks and echoes, a repetitive clarity that burns through the fog in Mo’s mind, galvanising his beliefs and eliminating any confusion. Joshua Pharo’s lighting and Josh Anio Grigg’s sound segues serve to draw out aspects of each character’s psychology, giving the audience access to otherwise unseen thought patterns and motivations.
The whole performance is precisely balanced, an elastic band on the point of snapping. Harding and Miller create an unsettling, electric atmosphere that the audience must tolerate for almost two hours. Numerous moments leave unanswered questions and create unsure reactions: does that line call for laughter, or silence? Do the characters deserve pity, understanding, or damnation? The overall production is designed to leave everyone guessing and is all the more rewarding for it.
DIRECTED BY Jay Miller
WRITTEN BY M.J. Harding with Jay Miller
CAST INCLUDES Barnaby Power; Clare Perkins; Mark Field
ORIGINAL MUSIC M.J. Harding with Jonah Brody
The Removal Men is on at The Yard Theatre until 10th December 2016. Click here for more details.