Lampedusa, by Anders Lustgarten, Hightide Festival, Aldeburgh, until September 19.


image - Credit: Archant

It’s fitting that Lampedusa, a play about the practical and emotional effects of the current migration disaster in the Mediterranean, should be taking place in Hightide’s tented beach-theatre by Aldeburgh’s Moot Hall.

Louise Mai Newberry as Denise and Steven Elder as Stefano in Lampedusa at the Hightide festival in A

Louise Mai Newberry as Denise and Steven Elder as Stefano in Lampedusa at the Hightide festival in Aldeburgh - Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer

As Stefano, played with brooding intensity by Steven Elder, talks about hauling the bodies of drowned migrants from the water, you can hear the sea washing up the beach just 100 yards away and the wind whistles through gaps in the canopy.

Lampedusa is a play for our times. It is probably more relevant, more timely now than when it was written at the beginning of the year. Playwright Anders Lustgarten was worried that a humanitarian disaster was occurring and no-one knew about it. Today, of course, it is the focus of every news bulletin.

But, this isn’t a lecture about the rights and wrongs of migration. It’s very much a human story told through, what, at first seems two disconnected monologues.

We see the world of migration through the eyes of Stefano, an Italian fisherman, who instead of catching fish now makes his living recovering the drowned bodies of those who failed to find safety in southern Italy and through the experiences of Denise, a British-Chinese debt collector perceptively portrayed by Louise Mai Newberry.

This pair who live a world away from one another through their direct dialogue with the audience offer a human perspective on the question of people moving from their homes and trying to create a life and sense of hope for themselves and their families.

Stefano talks of the horror of handling decomposing bodies while Denise looks to improving her life through education while also trying to help her aging mother claim the benefits she is entitled to.

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As the play progresses you can see how the worlds of an Italian fisherman and a university student moonlighting as a debt collector are not so far apart. They both offer tales of humanity in the face of disaster.

The well-researched monologues offer a look at lives which exist beyond the tragic headlines.

For such seemingly grim subject matter Lampedusa offers a compelling and, if not up-lifting piece of theatre, then a hopeful look at our ability to offer a helping hand when it is needed most.

Andrew Clarke