Whatever you think about migration since Brexit (and perhaps for some time before) it has rarely been out of the media. What Once Was Ourstakes a unique look at migration, using interviews with young people up and down the country, turning their beliefs into a two-hander play which strips the complex issues back and puts it into a single family setting.
However, this play is more than just migration, it delves deeper, trying to explore why different opinions develop and how barriers can be erected and broken down. Callum is seeking a reconciliation with his estranged father but meets his half-sister Katie at the door. His father will be back in two days and over the weekend that ensues Callum and Katie begin to challenge each other’s views and stereotypes. To Katie, mixed-race Callum is a sign of everything that’s causing the country to go downhill; to Callum, Katie is representative of an uneducated elite who doesn’t know how good she has it.
As the play progresses it’s not just the views of the characters that are challenged – the audience is forced to listen to opinions it might not feel so comfortable with and as the action unravels it becomes impossible not to feel empathy with both Callum and Katie. Both actors produce outstanding performances in their respective roles. Jaz Hutchins as Callum swings between anger and despair with ease, forcing the audience to face up to the reality of grief for lost loved ones. Meanwhile, Pippa Beckwith stuns the audience into silence as Katie recounts a sexual assault and how that changed her.
Yet what is going on between the two characters is just the beginning. Between scenes as the set (and at times members of the audience) is moved the audience are played recordings of the young people and their interviews, reminding us of the real-life relevance of the story. Some of those opinions were challenging and difficult to hear, and many I would have simply dismissed had I not been forced by the play to face up to my own assumptions and delve beyond.
The story and the message were perhaps made all the more intense by the unusual seating and blocking of the show (or lack thereof). Before entering we were simply told you may sit or stand anywhere and you may move around the stage as you wish during the show. So I sat myself down on the stage and the actors moved around me. As the actors moved they moved people around, they kicked people off seats which became used as the set and they even handed out the odd cup of tea.
This made you feel totally part of the scenario, being a member of the family rather than being a passing observer. Whilst if you don’t like your personal space invaded I would probably sit around the perimeter (I did get hit by a passing bit of set being thrown out of the way), I think the play definitely affected me in a way it wouldn’t have done had I been seated in a more traditional setting.
And if this review hasn’t been enough to persuade you that this really is a play worth seeing the maybe the fact that there are free jammy dodgers at the end for everyone might just swing it.
What Once Was Ours is a joint production between Half Moon Theatre and Zest, and we saw it at Sale Waterside Theatre. This review was taken from the London Theatre 1 Blog, by Emily Diver.