Review / Unpacking the migrant experience

theatre / “Anthems and Angels: The Compassion Plays”.  Devised and directed by Zsuzsi Soboslay. At the Ralph Wilson Theatre until November 4. Reviewed by John Lombard

IN the courtyard outside the Ralph Wilson Theatre a gleeful, top-hat-wearing Angel of Death singles out one member of the audience to account for their life.

Everyman then begins to wander through the crowd, desperately exhorting the audience to stand up for him, before he finally cajoles us to move into the theatre.
It’s an inspired opening for a show that depends on audience interactivity, because it positions the audience as the community that can choose to either help Everyman or withhold all compassion.
Inside the theatre, an apparent journey across the River Styx transitions into vignettes about the migrant experience in Australia, with the refugee learning to walk and talk in a new country recapitulating both childhood and the moral journey of the classical Everyman play.
For director and performer Zsuzsi Soboslay, the migrant experience is the universal human story, and by casting Everyman as an immigrant she challenges us to connect with the common humanity of refugees.
The performance had both the sincerity and the lack of polish of outsider art, particularly the disarming use of child performers.
While the blending of Everyman and the migrant story is rich with possibilities, the play only begins to unpack them.  The audience interactivity promised in the premise also felt tentative and limited.
The performance concluded with an invitation to return to the courtyard and share hot soup.  This brought the play full circle, the social ritual of sharing food connecting both the performers and the audience as a community.
“Angels and Anthems” breaks down the barrier between actor and audience, and between migrant and citizen, forcing us to accept its story of coming to a new country as our universal myth.

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