views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Terminal Five
Etcetera Theatre
8th August 2016


Publicity image for Terminal Five

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

When I used to fly out of London every fortnight, the Piccadilly Line always ran into problems at Osterley with fail. It was like clockwork - there would always be a good service all day long until the very moment I needed to get to Heathrow and the line would just crumble. Ah, TfL, ruining my life since 2007. A similar set of circumstances befalls our protagonists in Terminal Five: they all have a flight they have to catch and something has gone wrong with the tube frustratingly near the airport.

The five actors play a number of different protagonists. There are the three women jetting off on a hen party (Tania Firth, Emma Chapman and Ashley Racov), the mum (Firth) with her young child (Connor Allen) trying to make a very important family reunion, the angry ex-soldier (Sam Gibbons) who thinks immigrants are ruining his country - and plenty more. Everyone doubles up, frantically pulling on and off different clothes to create the feeling of the stage being crammed. We see strangers share jokes, ask for help, rant and rave, and very briefly just share a moment. Being stuck on a rail replacement bus forces the individuals to talk to each other.

Whilst the play has been conceived by Firth and Chapman who write, direct and star in it, interestingly enough, it's actually Racov who becomes their mouthpiece rather one of their own characters. Collectively, we all need to stand up to racism and there is a clear message running through the production that baselessly attacking immigrants just isn't acceptable. Racov's feisty Israeli hen is fleshed out very well and is credible as someone who has made the effort to settle here and isn't prepared to put up with being treated as a second-class citizen. Gibbons' mouthy tabloid reader perhaps seems to be too much of a caricature. Although he never utters the line "I'm not a racist, but..." we instinctively associate it with him. There's a certain humour arising from such broad strokes, however a little more subtlety would add more weight to the politics.

There are undercurrents of fear from the very beginning, with the tube carriage being evacuated for mysterious reasons, rather than the train simply breaking down on the way to the airport. As a commentary on the state of Britain today, it does capture that underlying sense of worry that something bad will happen sooner or later. There is a lot to like about Firth and Chapman's attempt to capture a real sense of Britishness and how the conclusion is framed, however part of the closing dialogue does feel a little artificial and rushed. With political theatre, there's always a tricky balance to be found between saying something meaningful and making sure the characters react in the way we would expect, rather than the way we would simply like them to.

Although the protagonists struggle to take off, that's not to say the play suffers the same fate, far from it. Terminal Five is a thought-provoking commentary on post-Brexit Britain and how to find a way forward. It's the start of a difficult conversation.

Terminal Five opened on 8th August and runs until 9th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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