The Welcoming Party review – immersive show charts fear and hope in Fortress Britain

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
In Theatre-Rites’ remarkable, rackety promenade piece, staged in the world’s first railway warehouse, actors tell their own stories of migration

We’ve all read articles describing the bureaucratic hurdles facing asylum seekers, but Theatre-Rites’ remarkable immersive show for the over-eights makes us feel it. There are times during this promenade piece, commissioned by Manchester international festival and featuring a cast including migrants and refugees, when it feels as if we have fallen into a cross between a Kafkaesque nightmare and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

At one point, the disembodied voice of Big Brother barks orders at us, in clipped tones, demanding that we fulfil increasingly impossible requirements, precisely mirroring those being asked of Mohamed Sarrar, a Sudanese refugee whose perilous journey is depicted in the show. The audience, too, fall under suspicion as we are suddenly asked to provide evidence that we have a right to be here.

The refugees’ stories are told in inventive ways.
The refugees’ stories are told in inventive ways. Photograph: Jonathan Keenan

It’s dislocating and a little bit scary. Frank Moon’s sound composition creates an unsettling atmosphere and Jamaal Burkmar’s choreography expresses the agony of uncertainty and waiting. Simon Daw’s design, with its constant images of dehumanising cages, makes the most of the venue, which was once the world’s first railway warehouse. The tracks still run to the door to receive cargo – in this case, it’s the human kind. One scene reminds us how people are processed like internet shopping orders and, in this instance, sent straight back from where they came.

Clear-eyed and unsentimental … The Welcoming Party.
Clear-eyed and unsentimental … The Welcoming Party. Photograph: Jonathan Keenan

This is all pretty grown-up stuff, and is done with the rackety swagger and invention that we’ve come to expect from Theatre-Rites, a company making shows for children that is right at the forefront of contemporary British theatre practice. As Mohamed sets out on his journey, his grief-stricken mother, waving goodbye, is conjured out of a suitcase. A tiny train passes over our heads, a drowning puppet is pulled from plastic waves into an unstable boat. The story of another refugee, Amed Hashimi, is told through a series of delicious pop-up pictures that neatly uses maps and photographs to detail his family’s travels around the world; in a poignant moment Michal Keyamo looks at the puppet that represents her five-year-old self.

As it soon becomes clear, everyone is an immigrant here. This is a clear-eyed, unsentimental show and one that both points to the imprisoning mindset of fortress Britain and knows that while kindness alone is never enough, it’s liberating both for those who give and receive it.


Lyn Gardner

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Party Skills for the End of the World review – Armageddon meets Blue Peter
This Manchester foray into disaster survival, perhaps tamed by recent events, emphasises fun and craftwork rather than posing serious existential questions

Lyn Gardner

02, Jul, 2017 @10:18 AM

Article image
Cotton Panic! review – a story of solidarity that deserves better
Jane Horrocks stars in a collage of song, history and drama whose most powerful presences are its stage projections

Clare Brennan

16, Jul, 2017 @6:45 AM

Article image
Party Skills for the End of the World review – short on fear, long on balloons
A doomed attempt to mix disaster survival and party games gets the otherwise promising Manchester international festival off to a shaky start

Susannah Clapp

09, Jul, 2017 @6:55 AM

Article image
Manchester international festival theatre roundup – emotion socks you in the face
A captive audience is ruffled in immersive refugee drama The Welcoming Party. Elsewhere, powerful tales of sons and fathers and a war room full of women

Susannah Clapp

16, Jul, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Fatherland review – three dads and a ladder give a voice to angry Britain
This thrilling play about three sons who go home to their dads – and their childhoods – shows verbatim theatre’s power to heed the forgotten

Michael Billington

06, Jul, 2017 @2:07 PM

Article image
What If Women Ruled the World? review – Kubrick meets covfefe as catastrophe strikes
Yael Bartana’s ill-judged performance piece at Manchester international festival mixed real, trailblazing women’s debate with actors’ scripted scenes

Hettie Judah

10, Jul, 2017 @5:05 PM

Article image
What if women ruled the world?
An end to abuse, a law against mansplaining, and reparations for two millennia of injustice … as a new sci-fi art show imagines a female-led future, we ask comedians, writers, politicians and CEOs for their vision

Interviews by Susanna Rustin, Harriet Gibsone and Hanna Yusuf

05, Jul, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
London’s County Hall to host immersive Paddington Bear theatre show
The Paddington Bear Experience, a family-friendly show based on Michael Bond’s character, will be at the ex-GLC building on the South Bank

Chris Wiegand

28, Mar, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
The Lost Lending Library review – immersive family show champions the magic of books
Punchdrunk Enrichment’s site-specific project for children aged six to 11 turns a historic building into a secretive library

Chris Wiegand

29, Oct, 2021 @9:17 AM

Article image
Puppet of refugee girl to ‘walk’ across Europe along 12-week arts festival trail
Three teams of four puppeteers will accompany Little Amal from Turkey to Manchester to celebrate refugees

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

11, May, 2021 @12:43 PM