Justice in Motion's work is always topical - perhaps in the case of Contained, more acutely so than originally intended. Conceived and initially performed before the 'crisis' was omnipresent in headlines, the piece takes an interesting angle on refugees' integration into society, as well as providing aesthetic pleasures throughout. With a plan to "reduce the gaps between lived experience of migrants and public opinion on migration", Contained combines strident imagery with a refreshingly un-black-and-white view of the socio-political leanings of its characters.
We meet a pregnant couple, with differing opinions on where they belong; a careerist mayor, and the academic she recruits to navigate a crisis; and the incoming human-avian population who present first a welcome diversion, then combustible controversy. The story is told in snapshots from these three spheres of action, which coincide at key times – dialogue is thus curt and curtailed, offering insights into characters' changing opinions and motivations.
Within these spheres, we're ushered from one time period to the next by the fluid movement of the players. Robert (Peter Dewhurst) particularly, escorting us from an indoor to a rooftop scene, is elegant in lifting himself through the slatted ceiling of his container-vessel house. As the Mayor, Judith von Orelli - projecting the confidence of a Trump with none of the odious bombast - shows the character's motivation in political decisions by first hurriedly accepting help and information from the academic, then later using every movement to visibly shield herself from enquiries when the situation gets out of hand. Fiona Watson as Katherine/Kafiyah is engaging and welcoming as the Brian Cox-like expert... I've seen a previous version featuring the previous cast, and the narrative through-line provided by this part was one of the improvements. Relatability was not necessarily increased across the board, but I was pleased to see Anja Meinhardt's onstage role increase in complexity, as offstage her roles comprise directorial and visionary positions.
So we have a political official who is entirely swayed by public opinion, which is first enamoured of and later threatened by the migrant 'birds' - a husband who is obsessed by their movements and beauty, until he begins to exhibit bird-like movements and speech; a wife driven to radicalism by an urge to protect her town; an academic whose research is honest, but whose identity is uncertain. It would have been easy to present one-dimensional characters in this short run-time, but Joakim Daun's script leaves us without certain targets for the audience's political ire, and unsure who to root for. But the cast's backgrounds in theatre, physical theatre and dance are betrayed in how wonderful they are to watch. Other visual elements including Simon Dormon's set design are striking; these and a tense score by Quentin Lachapele have a presence too large to be contained by the Story Museum.
This being an R&D performance, the cast were hot off the stage when they joined a panel to discuss themes raised by Contained. Even writing this review is somewhat 'convicting', as it forces me to dissect the issues. A couple of academic experts join the scriptwriter and cast to fulfil the piece's "enhance understanding, encourage dialogue" raison d'être, and as well as getting an inexhaustible discussion going, it's nice to marvel at the German/Swedish/French/Swiss/English/Dutch creative team that brought this work to life.