Darkly, Deliciously Witty: ‘Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea’ Review

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sorry we didn't die at sea
Image credit: Charles Flint

★★★★✰

Emanuele Aldrovandi’s dark and absurd plays are taking the continent by storm with his dark wit and ruthless tendency to cut through the noise when discussing the big issues. Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea follows suit of Aldrovandi’s previous works by putting his characters in bizarre situations to get to the crux of the migration crisis. In a near dystopian future, the nationalist and isolationist policies of European countries have led to economic collapse and authoritarian governments. Now, the tables have turned and the Europeans are facing treacherous journeys for a better life elsewhere. At Park Theatre, we see a rehash of Daniel Emery’s 2022 Seven Dials Playhouse production, the first performance of the play to British audience.

Three nameless migrants (Will Bishop, Yasmine Haller, and Marco Young) put their fate in the hands of an sketchy and intimidating people smuggler (Felix García-Guyer). As the trafficker loads the three travellers into a shipping container, we immediately realise the dire conditions they are in. They have one corner of the container functioning as a makeshift toilet, and the possibility of dying is inescapable. The three refugees have no idea where they’re going or what will happen when (or if) they arrive. Young’s character is $600 short for the payment the trafficker is expecting and goes through a roster of tactics to swindle Bishop’s character out the extra money he may or may not have. In contrast, Haller’s character is familiar with the dangerous journey overseas, swiftly manoeuvring her way around the aggressions and manipulations of the the men around her.

The fragility of the situation is palpable. At any moment, the migrants might understandably turn on each other rather than cooperate. Ironically, there is a brittle sense of mortality in the shipping container, when all three of them have embarked on this voyage as a means of survival. Each actor brings a separate attitude in dealing with this awareness of the danger they’re in. Bishop is a fish out of water, a posh boy who does not fully understand the severity of the situation he put himself in. Young plays reckless, abrasive fighter who will do just about anything to end up on top. Haller is tired of struggling against the tide and the reason to fight for survival is dwindling.

Living to tell the tale is not enough. Haller has no family to reunite with. All of them are leaving a great deal behind with little waiting for them. While their predicament becomes ever-bloodier and growingly absurd, the great philosophical reason to survive is glaringly absent. No one gets to be a hero and the weight of the situation drives them to do terrible things.

When a shipwreck occurs, the play takes an even darker turn and all hope seems lost. That being said, the play has a sardonic wit that makes it not only bearable, but enjoyable. Of all people, the people smuggler gives us most of the comic respite. With his sarcastic rambles about the origins of shipping containers, the loneliness of human trafficking, and shipwrecks, he is both sinister and hilarious. It is already sufficient that a people smuggler making vulnerable people dance for him is a morally egregious person, so why not have some fun in the meantime? García-Guyer has a presence that suffocates the room, equally a result of laughter and intimidation.

The most cutting aspect of Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea was its transferability. Translated by Young himself, it is shocking how smoothly the hostility towards refugees and nationalistic hubris switches from Italian to British audiences. We don’t see much cultural mediation in the English translation. For example, Italian sayings, jokes, and geographical references frequently cropping up without English substitutes. Usually, I would consider this an error of direct translation. However, in this instance, it emphasises how much anti-migrant rhetoric the two countries share.

A harrowing but witty discussion of the ‘migrant crisis’, the cast wears this contradictory tone well. Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea leaves me with an absurdist nihilism and a cynical hope to see more of Aldrovandi’s work to visit the UK.

Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea will be performed at Park Theatre until 30 September.

Words by Elizabeth Sorrell


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