Droplets of rain begin falling on a crowd of theatregoers, jostling to get into the auditoriums for Bust’s latest play, ‘Welcome to Bajikistan’. None of us are told what the hold up is and our curiosity perks up as various students with large backpack begin to join us in the queue.
We finally get inside, where we are confronted by a makeshift border post, a rather convincing border guard checks our tickets, gives us new papers and stamps them, thereby granting us entry to the play. We turn a corner in the corridor where two more khaki clad figures search our coats and bags. We finally settle down, not on chairs but on whatever floor space is available or if you’re lucky a battered old suitcase.
We have all just been ‘immersed’ in Oscar Brennecke-Dunn’s latest theatrical creation… ‘Immersive theatre’ puts the audience in the action, not just being spectators. The rather imposing looking border guards march around the audience shouting in Italian, Spanish, French, Germany… anything not English really. Our companion from the earlier queue enters, and the play begins.
I don’t want to spoil the play, suffice to say the plot revolves around two travellers attempting to navigate antagonistic border guards to get into Bajikistan. Both face challenges of communication, bureaucracy, and the ongoing physical threat that the border guards impose on them. At various times the audience a brought in to participate and the whole time we are on edge for fear of being picked on ourselves.
For me, the genius of the plot was that it was able to reach a satisfying crescendo without resorting to arbitrary closure or an abrupt ‘happy ending.’ The play leaves the audience without any firm conclusions; but we’re still questioning, still thinking, still reflecting on what we had just witnessed. A brief mention should go to the stage itself, if one can call it that.
The focal point of the play is a small table in the middle where most of the dialogue takes place, however there is so much more going on in the background, two projectors show the ‘CCTV’ feed from the ‘interrogation room,’ in another corner a kick-boxing film is being played, various tables are stood at the back of the theatre, one for searching bags, one for stamping documents etc.
There was a lot going on, all the time the audience craned their neck searching for the most exciting point to cast their attention. At times it felt like there was too much going on; although I suppose that is the whole point, when it got too busy it created a feeling of stress and confusion which anyone who has tried to negotiate dodgy borders can surely relate to.
For me, it was a postmodern take on the modern border crossing experience. The audience was never guided to favor one protagonist over the other; it was left for us to derive our own conclusions on who was in the right and who was in the wrong. This sort of neutrality was twisted uncomfortably when one of the actors desperately pleads for help, turning to the audience and imploring us to do something; it left us uncomfortably pondering what we would have done in that situation in real life.
There is still a bit of polish needed, some lines were stumbled over, however for a first night that is totally understandable. The clichés running throughout also felt a bit stretched at times; the chino wearing, naïve, and bumbling British traveller, although scarily relatable, came across as one-dimensional and without much character depth. Indeed none of the actors’ characters were really espoused or expanded on; but that can work in this play.
The play is just a snapshot of one day at such a border crossing, unlike other plays, the story is not about the characters, but about the structures and systems they are passing through. Overall; a 9/10 resounding success. All the actors, backstage, lighting, costume creators, and of course the writer and director Oscar, should all be immensely proud of what they have created.
A bold and experimental piece of theatre, it could have come across as try-hard and contrived however actually ended up being a thought-provoking and entertaining hour and a half. The show will run Friday and Saturday night and it is definitely worth booking a ticket.