Reviewed by on    Ottawa Fringe 2016, Theatre Schools / University Theatre  

Fugee : Directed by James Richardson, written by Abi Morgan. A production of the Third Wall Academy

Third Wall Academy has made enormous strides in its theatre training this year, especially related to its actor training, with its production of this moving, and very timely play by Abi Morgan. It brings us into the world of child refugees from around the world, while emphasizing the horrors of Child Soldiers that have been discussed in much African literature recently, including the award winning novel by writer Ahmadou Kourouma (Allah Is Not Obliged 2007) from the Côte D’ivoire, also the country of origin of 14 year-old Kojo, the young French-speaking character at the centre of this performance. Kojo is submerged in the unfathomable noises of an English speaking refugee centre, as a narrative filled with flashbacks, confused memories of his family, gives us the background of this youth who is the focus of this play.

Performed with great brooding intensity by an extremely talented Patrick Bugby, Kojo keeps us aware that he does not exist, he is a character, a purely theatrical construct. Thus we are set up in proper Brechtian style to accept the distance between actors and characters, however this demonstration of an intolerable situation touches a deep cord because it is clearly linked to contemporary wars, and refugee movements and much human suffering that we hear about on the news every day. Thus it is inevitably a deeply moving experience for the onlooker. The author has integrated much information that brings us beyond the Brechtian gestus as young refugees arriving alone in these centres are exploited, and subjected to prejudice, intolerance, and a whole world of unbearable relations. Some survive, some don’t but what makes Kojo’s world even more difficult is the training he was subjected to in Côte d’Ivoire where he was kidnapped by rebels and trained to be a young killer, before fleeing the country. The play’s circular structure brings this out beautifully as it ends with the same violent moment that sets off the play, this young man who has grown up too quickly, will now begin his new life as a killer. Is there any hope for him? It’s very hard to say.

Many of the young actors from the Third Wall Academy showed much maturity as they flipped back and forth between multiple roles, and a staging that does not emphasize too much psychological input but lots of physical input that allowed some of the more talented individuals to use the body to create a universe of dense emotions. Adrien Pyke as Cheung the young man whose character is Chinese, has an extraordinary gift of performance, as he creates this special world by reducing the emotional hysterics and drawing us into the depths of something that felt so real. Helen Thai stood out as Ara from Kaboul , so did Miriam Asoh as the mother, Jeff Clement the dying man and many others who took control of their characters and gave them much substance through their bodies. The use of music and percussion of various origins was excellent as it brought much to the stage world of physical suggestion.

There were bits of overblown shrieking and physical hysterics that has to be toned down or at least clarified and no doubt more attention given to some movements and rhythms of the group as whole might bring us closer to the underlying tensions that possess this world.

Still, this is a piece that has some very strong moments, come excellent acting, a timely message that all should see and it shows the great progress that the Third Wall Academy has made since last year’s Fringe festival.

Fugee plays at the Academic Hall on Saturday (18) at 4pm, Sunday(19) at 7h30 pm, Monday (20) at 11h00 pm, Thursday (23) at 6h00 pm, Saturday (25) at 9h30 pm.