THEATRE COLLECTION

Comedy focuses on Britain’s asylum fear

editorial@hamhigh.co.uk
01 April 2005
Bridget Galton

AMBASSADORS from Russia, Bosnia and Albania were last night expected to attend the world premiere of a comedy satirising Britain's treatment of refugees.
F***ing Asylum Seekers was penned by Camden Town resident Victor Sobchak, who fled to the UK after being incarcerated by the KGB for staging a religious musical - Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar.
The 46-year-old, who spent six months in sub-zero Siberian temperatures being injected daily with drugs to make him obedient, has used his experiences as a refugee in this country to highlight the paranoia and xenophobia surrounding asylum seekers.
The absurdist play features a British man whose whole life is taken over when he lets a bedraggled crew of heavily accented strangers into his home.
Mr Sobchak invited the ambassadors as he feels the play is an important discussion on the subject of immigration.
He said: "For me it's very interesting because I love this country and I see lots of controversial stuff about immigration - I realise this country can't accept everyone who wants to be here but then it is wrong to have people waiting 10-12 years for a decision.
"It was the biggest challenge of my life to try to adapt myself to this great culture.
"For me it was about England, land of Shakespeare and British theatre, which I thought was the highest point you can achieve.
"I didn't think about the economical side. But for a lot of people it's about coming here to get a not very exciting job but have money."
Sobchak, who arrived in the UK 12 years ago with just £300 in his pocket, was only granted asylum in 2003.
He said the best thing he did was getting himself a football team to support.
"When I arrived, my English language was zero so it was difficult to have a proper connection with people.
"My first bad experience was in a pub when people treated me as if I was stupid because they didn't understand me.
"I realised football was a language you could connect with British culture and I used to be a very promising goalie in Odessa where I grew up.
"When I said I supported Manchester United half the people in the pub said "ah you are a f***ing w***er, the other half said you are a real man!"
Sobchak, who has directed plays across the world and had his plays performed in Russia and the UK, has created an international theatre company run from the Lion&Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town, with actors from Kosovo, Brazil, Japan and Norway.
He said: "It's my ultimate goal to bring people together from different countries to share their experiences and create art on controversial issues.
"I don't want to make a political show I want to make entertainment. I want to make my points but also make people laugh at their prejudices - on both sides."
 F***ing Asylum Seekers runs at the Cochrane Theatre, Holborn, until April 23.

bridget.galton@hamhigh.co.uk


Dramatist who fled Russia puts spotlight on asylum phobia

By Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent

04 April 2005

When Victor Sobchak directed a version of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar in Russia in 1981, the combination of Western decadence and religion so appalled the Soviet regime that he was dispatched to a mental hospital in Siberia. He spent six months there on tranquillisers at sub-zero temperatures, as both a punishment and a warning not to reoffend. There was, he stresses, not a hint of genuine psychiatric illness. Despite glimmerings of change in the years of Mikhail Gorbachev that followed, Sobchak viewed the arrival of Boris Yeltsin as a return to the dark days. So at the end of a theatrical world tour which began at the Edinburgh Festival, he returned to the UK and applied for asylum, which was finally granted two years ago. He has now turned the years of uncertainty into a play that he hopes will shed light on the process for both aspiring immigrants and resident Brits. At the Cochrane Theatre in London, the world premiere of F*****g Asylum Seekers is running until 23 April - just in time, he hopes, to shed new light on an issue that is set to be a key election battleground. In the play, a group of heavily accented strangers arrive at the door of Stuart, who has always been a bit of a loser. Little by little, the strangers take away everything he holds dear. Sobchak, 46, said most asylum cases were sad stories. "But I really didn't want to repeat all those stories. For me it was more interesting to use the famous British humour and the tradition of British black humour to create something farcical.” He takes the paranoia and fear that asylum-seekers can provoke to an absurd - and terrifying - conclusion. "I wanted to use British fear and prejudice towards foreigners and foreigners' prejudice towards British people as well," he said. Looking back, he thinks his original act of rebellion in producing his show based upon Jesus Christ Superstar was "quite dangerous and silly of me because it was propaganda of religion to young people and there was the problem of Western influence because it was rock music". He said that he hoped people would find his play funny and entertaining but that it would also make them think about the arguments.

A REFUGEE'S VIEW

"My first reaction after the play is that it's a good work, this play has covered the subject quite well to make the public aware of the asylum-seekers issue. The main actor is a British guy with a right-wing attitude. One night, a family from eastern Europe arrives in his house; they simply claim it's their house. This is the ironical picture of what people usually think of asylum-seekers. But the story has only dealt with white asylum-seekers. So, this play didn't go really deep into the asylum issue. It was mainly a comedy, and aimed to make people laugh about asylum issues, not really to show the real problems behind."

Zoe Neirizi, a solicitor from Iran, came to the UK in April 1993 and was given refugee status in December 1994.

F*****G Amazing Show, April 3, 2005

Reviewer: roberttown5

Why can't US theatres make shows like F*****g Asylum Seekers? I can honestly say I've never seen a show like it. A cross between Monty Python and Southpark, it deals with the Brit's problem of immigrants -but this translates just about anywhere in the Western developed world.

A young mans life -played with wonderful pathos and verve by Andy McQuade, is turned upside down by a bunch of asylum seekers, led by the brilliantly predatory Shaban Arifi. They proceed then to take over his life and eventually the country.

The roof raiser was Geir Kjelland and his cutting impersonation of Margaret Thatcher at the shows end when the asylum seekers take over the country. I guess this is a show you'd have to visit two or three times -you're never sure where it's going to go next -and sometimes you cannot label it at all -Victor Sobchak is one damned clever writer/director -is it farce? absurdism? black comedy?

Whatever it is, it made me think very deeply and with many a laugh about the European problem of dealing with such a complex problem. The show mixes in multimedia to the live action which on the whole works very well but at times adds an unwanted drag mid-way through the proceedings.

That said, I felt fortunate that my last night in London was spent in this out-of-the-way theatre - of all the West End shows I visited this trip, this one knocked the socks off all of them.

I hope very much we'll see it in the US very soon.

Bravo Act Provocateur!





Surreal search for asylum in one man’s council flat

editorial@islingtonexpress.co.uk
08 April 2005
F*****G ASYLUM SEEKERS

The Cochrane Theatre

DURING the centuries, this fair land of ours has been invaded over and over again by refugees from foreign parts and through the generations most have been assimilated into our culture. Victor Sobchak's surrealist comedy fantasises over what would happen if our tolerance of asylum seekers got out of hand? If they were allowed to form a kind of revolutionary force and were able to take over the country. Sobchak's play carries this possibility to its absurd limit.

A cockney couch potato called Stuart is lazy, unable to raise interest in anything except football games on the television. Even his sexy girlfriend Sarah finds it impossible to rouse him. She storms out of the flat - he orders a pizza. Stuart is a living symbol of a self-satisfied population dependent on government handouts.

The gang of asylum seekers that invade him are a ruthless lot, stamping their national personalities on Stuart's council flat, which they insist was allotted to them by Ken Livingstone.

They drink his booze, smoke his fags, take possession of his wallet. A middle aged lady lies on his precious sofa. When he remonstrates, she says he must learn to speak better - she doesn't understand his dialect. Stuart is unable to cope with the situation. He does not know how to fight for himself and his possessions. He tries to call the police but they have other matters to attend to. In other words, the situation is just allowed to happen with disastrous consequences.

This multimedia production is from the stable of Act Provocateur Int., a company set up by Sobchak in order to present European classics and new writing, and they have had much success in international festivals. The cast includes Shaban Arifi from Kosova and Geir Kjelland from Norway. Andy McQuade, one of the principal actors in Act Provocateur makes a good job of the feeble Stuart.

It is a fascinating idea and could be the basis of a very interesting movie, as a play one could wish the jokes were a little thicker on the ground.

Until April 23.

Aline Waites

FestivalGuide

F*****g Asylum Seekers.

Drams full glassfull glassfull glass
Venue C Electric (formerly the Odeon). (Venue 50).
Address
Clerk Street.
Reviewer Ed Thornton.

“You can’t just come into somebody’s flat and say it’s yours”. Writer-director Victor Sobchak leads Act Provocateur International in a personalised exploration of the prejudices and paranoia of people on both sides of the asylum seeker divide.

Stuart, Andy McQuade, a lager quaffing layabout, is surprised out of his lethargy when a family of asylum seekers turn up to his one bedroom council flat. Bearing authorisation papers from the DSS and enamoured with the democracy of their new country, they form a majority to vote that the flat becomes theirs.

Offering subjectivity to the topical argument by focusing on the troubles in one home Sobchak has attempted to create a microcosm of the nationwide dispute. Acting as overblown stereotypes of each other’s prejudices, both sides expose the ridiculousness of the other’s views in a production that is loyal to neither, preferring instead to poke fun at both.

Stuart, undermined by a society he believes has become so multicultural it's forgotten the rights of the individual, finds it impossible to rally support against his uninvited guests. Turning into a whining apathetic nationalist he's powerless against the unnatural demands of the group. And they are as ungrateful for his hospitality as he always knew they would be.

As representations of larger entities the characters are just about enough to hold your interest, however as stand alone persons they are not. The dreary dialogue and attempts at humour often fall short of the mark, hampering the overall pace of the piece. Additionally by straying a little too close to nationalism at times, its supposedly neutral message is confused.

VIDEO CLIP

F***g Asylum Seekers