Review by Raphael Kohn
It’s pretty well-accepted now that nobody’s going to find love on Grindr. Well, almost nobody. After all, a blurry, unsolicited picture of someone’s genitals doesn’t tend to be the best conversation starter. Perhaps, then, Junction Theatre’s Borders might be the heart-warming tale of Grindr love that could change some minds.
Inspired by a real experience that the writer had, ‘Borders’ follows George, from Lebanon, and Boaz, from Israel, who meet on Grindr. Separated by the harshest of borders, they explore the ideas of romance, sex and what it means to truly know and love someone you have never even met, with the ‘border’ of two completely different people from completely different background being crossed as their connection grows. As they grow closer, they make a plan to meet in Berlin and realise their previously digital relationship. But with tensions growing, and the threat of war looming, their relationship gets stretched to the limit as geopolitical borders separate our protagonists and test their connection.
This challenge is brought to life as both a physical ‘border’ in Ethan Cheek’s simple but ingenious set design. A folding set of stone-like bricks turn and morph into seats, a set of stairs, and a fully-realised physical border between our characters, somewhat reminiscent of the actual ‘security barrier’ that separates Israel and Palestine. It’s brilliantly effective in its simplicity, acting as an ever-looming presence between our protagonists without ever being overpowering for a show that relishes its quieter moments.
And relish its quieter moments it does. Directed by Neta Gracewell, ‘Borders’ excels in its subtlety, with a gentle approach to the drama that makes it all the more beautiful. Although the moments of heightened drama almost became shouting matches at times that risked losing the relationship they had so carefully built with the audience, the gentleness of the storytelling and care put into ‘Borders’ was, on the whole, excellent.
It could have been easy to fall into the trap of letting this be yet another half-baked Grindr-inspired show. Yet, Nimrod Danishman’s script manages to treat the subject with sensitivity, gentleness and even a good touch of humour. Written as a conversation on Grindr between our protagonists, the conversation perfectly mimics the awkwardness of starting one’s discussion with a picture of one’s genitals, then asking the classic question of ‘top or bottom?’, and then moving on to more important questions, such as ‘how are you?’.
Instead, with very little chance of putting their sexual fantasies into action, George and Boaz talk daily about their days, what they’ve been up to, and, crucially, their upbringings. Moments of genuine beauty are found in the stark contrasts between their situations – Boaz living confidently as an openly gay man in Jerusalem, George less so, especially when around family. It is truly beautiful to see our two protagonists find love like this, despite the monumental challenge between them.
Of course, no two-hander play can ever succeed without truly excellent performers, and ‘Borders’ has no shortage of talent on stage. With the story entirely told by our two protagonists, Yaniz Yafe’s Boaz and Tarik Badwan’s George are believable and authentic and are brought to life in a way you can genuinely root for. Boaz is bold and confident, but hides a slight dash of insecurity, while George is calmer and more self-assured, but has to hide his sexuality publicly. With neither actor outperforming the other, their complex and detailed performances are some of the best you’ll find on a fringe theatre stage.
This is a five-star fantastic fringe triumph, bringing the very best of London’s fringe theatre to the Vaults festival. Funny, beautiful, but also heartbreakingly sad all at once, this touching show left very few dry eyes throughout the auditorium. I hope there will be nothing in the way of me seeing it again one day.
Borders has now finished its run at VAULT festival. The festival continues throughout March. See vaultfestival.com for all of the listings