Review by Sam Waite
When Amit Lahav’s grandmother and her family fled to Palestine in an effort to escape persecution in Yemen, their thoughts cannot have stretched beyond safety for the more vulnerable among them. Surely, they couldn't have dreamed that Amit, almost a century later, would make use of his position as Artistic Director of Gecko Theatre to create Kin, a powerful testament to the resilience of humankind, and the measures taken to keep them from winning their battles, now playing at London's National Theatre.
Interpretive and told mostly through movement, Kin can be difficult to follow. A woman is detained by immigration officers at a border checkpoint, finally reuniting with her elated family. If you try to glean a plot focused on her or on them as a whole, you will quickly lose track of events, instead, this is a collection of stories and ideas about the struggle to make your way to a new place, and the obstacles an oppressive homeland or unwelcoming would-be-sanctuary can throw into your path.
Co-devised by its company, Kin finds its characters speaking in their native tongues, but united and easily understood by their graceful movement – at times full-on dance routines, and at others interpreting conflicts or celebrations through fluid motion. David Price’s compositions help to set the mood of the various through-lines, meaning the lack of explanatory dialogue is never a problem with the audience clued in on the tone and severity of situations at all times. Lighting and sound, from Chris Swain and Mark Melville respectively, are phenomenal both technically and as tools for storytelling. Both have set tone and pace brilliantly, and their strong, involving choices work in perfect tandem with the performers.
Himself acting as director, Lahav is joined by fellow deviser-performers Lucia Chocarro, Chris Evans, Madeleine Fairminer, Mario García-Patrón Álvarez, Vanessa Guevara Flores, Saju Hari, Kenny Wing Tao Ho, Wai Shan Vivian Luk, and Miguel Hernando Torres Umba. Each of them has a story to tell, whether theirs or their family’s, about travelling from one land to another in search of a better life, and of the hardships encountered then and to this day. Carrying this with them, they throw themselves spectacularly into the work, conveying bold emotions in their movements and being so clear in their intentions that the audience not speaking the same language as their characters never once impacts our understanding of their themes and ideas.
With Rhys Jarman’s simple but effective scenery and costumes, familial relationships are made apparent through wardrobe and the contrasting coziness and confinement of humble family homes is clear even on the Lyttleton's large, open stage. The primary sets of a small home and an immigration checkpoint move on and off of the stage, or else are hidden in the dim lighting that permeates the piece, allowing the stories being told to easily transition around each other and for a new scene to be set without the need for a total blackout or clunky introduction.
The stories themselves are relevant and striking, dealing with matters of entrapment, oppression, and the masses being turned against each other by a larger regime. The ensemble of deviser-performers end the show in a line, stating their name and a brief summary of their connection to the show’s themes, in a moment of pure power that brings the occasional immersive elements (lights shine onto the crowd, our being encouraged to clap along in a festive scene) into focus as we are made to reckon with how present and real these older stories, easily pushed aside as “how it used to be”, truly are.
This review may be shorter than many others I've written, but Kin is not a show to be explained or its meaning dictated by another viewer. Rather, I implore you to see the work for yourself during this too-brief run in the Lyttleton Theatre, and to examine not only the themes and concepts being addressed, but how your understanding of them may have been misshapen by a perceived otherness, or a belief that they do not affect you.
Kin plays at The National Theatre’s Lyttleton Theatre until January 27th
For tickets and information visit https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/kin/
Photos by Malachy Luckie