There are currently 65 million refugees in the world and an incredibly low willingness to provide safe homes for them globally. Harsh regulations, border closures, long expected stays in refugee camps and even detention centres are all evidence of this. Following from the recent referendum to stay or leave the EU, anti-immigration sentiment and fear of refugees have been strongly expressed. The fear and outrage has led to serious hate crimes, and possibly even the murder of MP Jo Cox on the basis of her open stance on immigration.
In this context, 10,000 Smarties, directed by Alice Malin and written by Josh Azouz, is a timely play which follows an individual face of a global issue. Enayat (FarshidRokey) has fled Kabul as an unaccompanied minor and has forged relationships and ambitions in his years in the UK. Confusion over his age, however, puts his freedom, and his life in danger. Detained and mired in regulations and institutions, Enayat grows increasingly desperate.
It's hard as well for his partner, Sally (Amelia Lowdell), who tries to provide comfort and hope but is ultimately helpless. Rokey and Lowdell successfully portray a complex relationship which navigates age and cultural differences. Despite possible ethical issues (Sally is Enayat's foster mother as well as his lover), their need for each other is touching.
Bureaucratic agents – police and immigration officials, social workers – are portrayed by a child (Alfie Lowies) with light-up shoes and a plushie German Shepherd sidekick. The cruelty of the system is made clear through this creative casting, it's jarring to hear a young person strip the rights of a man away. Nobody is born with such prejudice, or such glee in the face of others' suffering.
Another highly effective element of the play is incorporating the Stage Manager (Anna Sheard) as part of the set and as a kind of character. The events always have a pair of eyes looking on, complicit with the situation, in some cases helping the worst events unfold. It also conveys the bustle of institutions, with papers constantly being shuffled and continuous movement backgrounding individual events. Her role is well-supplemented with excellent sound and lighting which channels the sense of busy indifference.
The child in the play tells Enayat that he has 10,000 Smarties. If one of them is poison, how many should he eat? This analogy is the impetus for closed borders, but as Enayat says, "I am not a Smartie!" This play is a reminder that we cannot distance ourselves from refugees. There may be many, but they are all people.