It’s the gesture that counts, isn’t it? The holding open of door for others, the clicktivism.
The Sleeper – Or What Happens When You Ask Them to Leave, from Director / Playwright Henry C Klempels, explores the futility of the gesture in the face of true adversity and helplessness. Born out of a real experience – the writer turns investigator: setting his play to ricochet off in various different directions in a taut three hander, where despite the best intentions, the fate of a girl discovered on the sleeper train in someone else’s bed ends the same way.
It is devastatingly effective in it’s quiet way of asking the big questions, the gentle way it raises your conscience – making you feel it all the more haunted by its simplicity. It’s very ably, thoughtfully and confidently performed by the trio of Sarah Agha, Joshua Jacob and Michelle Fahrenheim who stalk about a tiny island stage, often circling each other like caged animals when not actively drawing lines on the floor with chalk, daring each other to avoid or cross them. Unusually, it speeds through forms of theatre, from experimental, to naturalism, right through to Pirandello-style scenes as the Playwright is called for by name. There are calls to “stop the show”, and moments where the audience is accused – perhaps justifiably – of voyeurism. Here, the refugee directly challenges our morbid interest in their stories and our empty attempts to help, to better ourselves, leaving us to dwell in our own vacuousness. Despite the venom, and the everlasting chase of the three characters – train manager, passenger and refugee – it ends in a deafeningly silent gesture, one that overrides ignorance, artifice and even language in a real tour de force from set designer Jasmine Swan. The finale is a definite moment of truth that’s incredibly moving to behold.
The Sleeper is a real ask of the actors both physically and mentally – it’s well-meaning, uncomfortable, funny, sad and unselfconscious. It is part of a conversation needed now, more than ever.
The Sleeper – Or What Happens When You Ask Them To Leave, is on at The Space Theatre, 4th-14th April 2018. Full details here