Written by Hilary Spiers, Laure Paterson, Susan Chaney and Richard Peoples
Directed by Mark Kydd
There will come a time when those we consider strangers, visitors to this land, may seek refuge in our homes. There will come a time when those we called strangers will help us secure and rebuild the world, which falls to ash and ruin.
That time is already here.
Gradually, (There Are) No Strangers Here centres itself around a Climate Crisis which finds the world turned about in despair, floods and fires drowning and scorching the earth in equal measure that would once have been far-flung science fiction. Yet now, it’s all too real. Uncomfortably so.
Narrative thoughts of the emergence of a refugee crisis, or indeed an influx, due to the encroaching effects of climate change is not an entirely new pool to draw from, however, the newly formed writing collective One Foot in the Future takes tremendous carer and deft in examining, not only the impact of this hypothetical refugee influx but wrestles with the differing custom and philosophies, framing it around ageing and new purposes in a foreign land.
With four seasons in a day, the scent of stovies in the air, and the unique custom of “spilling the beans”, Scotland may be a welcoming nation, but it’s a peculiar one to adapt to. In a not-too-distant present, Scotland is part of a government scheme to relocate those around the world who find their homes afflicted by the magnitude of cataclysmic changes. The nation turns to the empty nesters to house them, billeting them in homes with spare rooms – suddenly a generation of people across Scotland find themselves with new house guests. And after severe droughts and sanctions force two refugees – a father, Zahid, and a heavily pregnant daughter into the home of Agnes and Danny.
Performed by Eve Dagba, Isabella Jarrett, Firas Ibrahim, and Paul Wilson, (There Are) No Strangers Here largely takes place within Agnes and Danny’s home, with Ibrahim acting as a semi-narrator in the beginning and conclusion to push the more nuanced points into the audience, though does so with sincerity, leaning into the questions of our neighbourly attitudes and ambitions for change.
As a unit, the four work tremendously well with one another, enabling the likes of Jarrett a wider sense of growth across the production, from unwilling to offer shelter to a more rounded, compassionate character. Their humour is top notice, especially when matched against Wilson’s dryer delivery or Ibrahim’s more stoic, vulnerability. Really though, the rawness of Dagba’s performance sets the show apart – providing the production with its much-needed sense of agency and hurt. Roles reverse somewhat, and gradually as the script unfurls its complexities on the value of older generations, and indeed the struggles of old age, both Jarrett and Wilson take a more purposeful role as they divulge the difficulties in losing attachment, and coping with isolation.
A team of four writers comprising a one-hour production sounds like a nightmare, too many cooks and all that, and yet, the equilibrium snatched by Hilary Spiers, Laure Paterson, Susan Chaney, and Richard Peoples is mesmeric at times. It achieves, sometimes in broad strokes, a nuance which matches the more obvious blows of concern and call to action – where the line becomes more subtle is with the production’s stance on the value, and indeed, depreciation of older generations.
Elements of the value of wisdom and age are tied, though perhaps not delicately enough, where some cultures certainly place more weight and value on caring and abiding by older generations than within the UK. Taking support and inspiration from the University of the Third Age, One Foot in the Future’s writing style offers a tightly woven narrative where the direction steers us back to noting the difficulties and values Agnes, Danny, and indeed Zahid has on their communities and families.
Offering a distinctly Scots flair, Laure Paterson’s original composition and Roddy Simpson’s sound design may echo ‘home’ for many in the room but offers a disconnection for those who find this form of music, while beautiful, is another adjustment to make. It conjures, and reinforces a sense of confusion, just as much as Agnes or Danny’s colloquialisms. There’s a level of detail which goes far beyond the surface here, a touching one which, with time, could be drawn out and demonstrated to its fullest potential.
Kydd’s direction requires a touch more focus, particularly where characters seem to communicate their lines with the audience, rather than react to one another. Dialogue sequences suffer the most, which otherwise seems natural when monologuing. There are elements of fourth wall breaks within the writing, but in moments it suggests the cast are unsure if they are communicating with one another, or directly with the audience – momentarily drawing us out of the immersion.
Instilling a sense of agency within its cast, One Foot in the Future’s (There Are) No Strangers Here speaks not only of the value of older generations but poses a nuanced and sturdy form of storytelling. It’s warnings are contemporary and immediate, and in looking to the future – occasionally insight from the past is necessary.
Nuanced and Sturdy Storytelling
(There Are) No Strangers Here runs at the Scottish Storytelling Centre until September 10th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.