The Special Relationship

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Writer, Hassan Abdulrazzak first interviewed ex-prisoners from the Charity ‘Prisoners Abroad’ with a view to writing a purely fictional play but the stories of the individuals he met had such a powerful ‘you couldn’t make it up’ quality that he decided to go with verbatim form. Foreign nationals in America can be deported after serving prison sentences, regardless of the nature of the crime and after 9/11, ‘The United Nations Immigration and Naturalisation service’ was replaced with Homeland Security which ultimately led to police becoming immigration agents and a massive spike in deportation. ‘A Special Relationship’ tells the story of six British deportees.

The title refers to the relationship between Trump and May, who tango (literally) around the deportees who have been torn away from children, houses and the future they imagined because for one reason or another they had failed to get their naturalisation documents in order, despite having lived in the US for most of their lives. The names of the six characters have been changed (a number attended press night) but their stories are told entirely their own words, in fast-paced ‘scenes,’ projected onto the back-drop; deportation, crime, childhood, drugs, longing, dreams.

Each character has a life that could be a play in itself so there is a lot to take in. With precise and energetic direction Esther Baker, the cast work as a seamless ensemble, with vibrant, interlocking stories. Miranda Foster is particularly funny and touching as Kathy, one of the oldest deportees who has lived one hell of life. She moved to the States with her mother as a child and after driving trucks for a living, got involved with Mexican drug-trafficking (she has great admiration for Mexican tunnels). After serving her time she is picked up for not having a valid driving license and taken into the immigration detention facility age 58 before being deported. Kathy still has no idea what happened to her house and her dogs. Clearly a tough woman, she is a romantic too. You can only wonder what has become of her now, having lost the love of her life to cancer in the States. She fondly remembers Grace by her skin that she had grafted onto her own chin after a life-threatening attack.

If this all sounds gripping but grim, do not fear, there is music, dancing and some impressive ensemble twerking. Nicholas Beveney has had a lot of fun playing Curtis the police warden at ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). He is in effect the shows MC, turning the scenes, throwing some shapes and winking at the audience to make sure we’re all having a good time. Think Billy Flyn from Chicago, a show that was in fact based on a 1926 play about actual criminals and shares the theme of distinctly dubious criminal justice. In fact, initially there’s more than a hint of Chicago-style satire as the larger than life ‘criminals’ introduce their ‘misdemeanours’ on a line-up of chairs like a very contemporary vaudeville act. But this is no musical…and these are the words of people living today, who served their time in the States, before being dropped in the UK with nothing and no-one.

‘The Special Relationship’ gives a fascinating insight into the arbitrary nature of deportation, the total lack of access to lawyers, the shocking state of the immigration detention facilities run by private companies and most of all the humanity of the individuals who live to tell their stories of double punishment.

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