Speaking for Ourselves

The play that breaks down ideas of 'them' and 'us'

The play that breaks down ideas of 'them' and 'us'

Ozichi Emeziem

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - The play that breaks down ideas of 'them' and 'us'

Imagine: eight actors of different ages, sizes, genders, and ethnicities sitting on stage with their chairs forming a V-shape whose point faces the audience. The setting is a plane in midair that is in danger of crashing and the dialogue jumps from character to character who then reveals their internal thoughts. 

As the imagined plane thrashes there are uniform facial expressions of horror alongside synced movements forward, backward, and sideways. The common thread is that recognizable stirring of fear despite the fact that each character is isolated in their own head. Suddenly, the jerking stops and there is a collective sigh upon landing safely, which is then followed by small chatter of the equal dislike of flying. The lights dim, the scene ends, the characters disappear from the stage, and those five minutes give a lasting impression of similarity rather than difference.

This specific scene belongs to the play Tales of Bed Sheets and Departure Lounges, written by Venezuelan writer Montague Kobbé. It features over 40 short pieces, also noted as flash fiction, and recently premiered in the Contemporary Latin American Writers Festival (CLAW) at the Cervantes Theatre in London on 3 July 2017. This festival showcased two Brazilian writers and Venezuelan writer Kobbé, yet as a whole it aimed to celebrate authors across Latin America whose works are not commonly represented in mainstream venues of London. Additionally the location in the Cervantes Theatre played a role in showcasing another aspect of British theatre. In fact, this particular place is the first London venue dedicated to displaying Spanish and Latin American shows. Furthermore it resides in the historic Southwark borough which was one of the only areas of the country where the community successfully advocated for the inclusion of ‘Latin American’ as an identity on equalities forms.

In an interview with Kobbé, he expressed that another goal of this festival, which he helped to organise, was to expand the representation of places such as his home country of Venezuela. According to him the media coverage of the nation typically centers on corruption, violence, and dictatorship, which drastically erases other realities. Consequently, his own piece brings to the forefront the universality of human emotion as it plunges through quick and varied episodes of feelings that are experienced by all whether one is here, there, or simply, anywhere. 

Through characters who are nameless, genderless, and ageless, all of these short stories are left to the interpretation of the viewer which intensifies the feeling that these characters could be any of us. The short collection gathers its inspiration from the long amount of time Kobbé would spend in airports where the bustle of people coming and going surrounded him. It was from this waiting and the boredom it created that he began jotting down short pieces from his “imaginings of what other people are going through”. When transported to the stage, these apparently random imaginings have a thought-provoking effect. They emphasise the relativity between the different characters as well as between the audience and these fictive characters. 

According to Kobbé, this theme of commonality “generates empathy” as it points to the fact that at some point I have experienced those same feelings of disappointment, happiness, and of course, fear, just like you might have as well. In light of current discussions like that surrounding migration this seems rather imperative to counter a dialogue that simplifies people to ‘them’ and ‘us’, makes people feel unrelated, or suggests that being different is somehow bad to an assumed normal. 

Difference cannot be avoided nor should it be noted as bad when it can spark conversations or stem understanding, and undeniably, we are not all the same in terms of identity, background, family, culture, and such. However, if it is used to create a divide that overlooks moments of our likeness that is rather harmful. 
Effectively, the play opts to celebrate our differences and if one follows closely you might be able to find yourself in one of these characters or scenarios. Kobbé successfully moves his audience through different scenarios of human emotion and connect us all as it did so. More information on next showings of this play or any of Kobbé’s events can be found on his website: http://montaguekobbe.com/