Becka McFadden’s staging of Closed Lands explores and breaks down borders and walls – including the fourth. Crammed into the maximum hour-long running time of a VAULT Festival show (though this one is 50 minutes) is Trump delivering a speech to the tune of The Backstreet Boys, cabbages and retro video game soundtracks. A journey across boundaries is gamified, with mixed results.
In one of the most expressive performances, Lara Parmiani opens the play by delivering an account of the fall of the Berlin Wall. “I am 17 years old,” she says, the script coupled with Parmiani’s performance creating a profound sense of detail as footage from the event is projected on the walls behind her. At the end of it all, Lara’s pained expression as she explains that in 1989, such a historic moment was described as a moment of freedom, has a damning impact when walls continue to be put up over 30 years later.
It is perhaps why a fair amount of Closed Lands feels repetitive. Each section of the play is introduced by the same Tetris soundtrack which becomes grating after a couple of listens. Maybe there’s a reason behind that, with the ‘resetting’ potentially resembling the gruelling trial and error that comes with making such a dangerous journey across countries, but it feels more bizarre, jarring and unusual, give the subject matter, than erudite. Similarly, various politicians stand on a soapbox in one corner of the stage and recite almost the same spiel about borders being necessary for security. Again, it shows a lack of change in international foreign policy over immigration, but in the context of a video game, it could have been more metaphorical. They could certainly be presented as more villainous, if that’s a message the play wants to convey.
Though that’s the thing, the messaging at the centre of Closed Lands feels heavy and extensive. It’s billed on the VAULT Festival website as a “unique fusion of poetry, satire, reportage, multimedia and traveller’s diary”, and while we do follow an individual crossing a border, their journey is fragmented, split over other scenes involving debates, farce and video projections (which are often hard to make out when displayed on cardboard boxes).
With its many mediums and ideas squeezed into such a short period of time, Simon Grangeat’s script reads as rather disjointed, McFadden’s direction disengaging. Sitting on a beanbag on stage, their MacBook resting on their lap, members of the company talk back at their laptop which plays speeches from politicians. In one of the more intriguing parts of the production, we see both sides – both sides of political discourse on a subject, and both sides of the border. Ideas surface in Closed Lands, but they don’t feel developed enough before another scene occurs. In its ambition to cover so much, it’s hard to comprehend much of the play, with only the hyperbolic elements of the production stand out for their weirdness – moments when cast members move around like crabs, dance to the Super Mario theme tune or fight over a pedal exerciser.
At the end of it all, the most prominent argument made concerns the reiterating of foreign policy around immigration, but when this point about repetition becomes, in itself, repetitive, Closed Lands is a disappointing take on what is an incredibly timely issue. A play which presents migration as a game, whilst trying to explore too much, perhaps needs time to pause.
Closed Lands is now playing at VAULT Festival until 8 March.
Production Images: Steve Gregson.
Disclaimer: I saw Closed Lands for free in exchange for a review as someone who is currently a part of VAULT Festival’s Emerging Critics scheme. I did not receive any payment for my involvement in the scheme or for this review, and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.