THEATRES should be places of sanctuary, in the determined view of Bethany Sheldon and Kathryn Lowe, artistic directors of Maison Foo. They founded the company — an associate company of Derby Theatre — in 2008, to create “mischievous new theatre that challenges audiences and tickles their imagination… absurd pieces rooted in social conscience.”
When they began researching the experiences of refugees and asylum-seekers, they were saddened to discover how isolated many of them felt. One had lived in the city for two years and had not really spoken to anyone outside of the Derby Refugee Advice Centre. So they developed the Refugee Friends Scheme to run alongside this play and to collaborate with other theatres to make their work and buildings a more welcoming experience.
Maison Foo’s style makes them very accessible. Words are few; there’s a lot of clowning, drollery, and puppetry in the European tradition; storytelling is often visual; it’s physical and immediate. In A Thing Mislaid, two very expressive actors, Teele Uustani and Raquel Pereira, play fellow migrants on the road, fleeing from who knows what, hunted and running to “the edge” until they can run no more.
“I don’t have a city. My family have been mislaid,” one tells officials demanding papers.
Robert DayTeele Uustani (left) and Raquel Pereira in A Thing Mislaid by Maison Foo
A baby bird has apparently been mislaid, too: in a mirror image of their own situation, they are seeking to unite it with its flock. It’s an elusive and haunting piece. The two performers use a hand-held video camera to film scenes using miniature puppets that mimic their own actions, simultaneously projected and mesmerising to watch. There are menacing sounds of barking dogs and falling masonry.
And yet it’s wonderfully comic, too, with what might have been sad moments impishly turned on their heads. The pair endure hunger and are down to one biscuit: they play out an imagined scene in a glittering restaurant, La Maison Grande, summoning the waiter and swilling “wine”. In another mad episode, they adopt the identities of “Barbara and Nigel”, in a new and hostile urban settling.
Maison Foo have won the accolade of “A Theatre of Sanctuary” from City of Sanctuary, a national group working to challenge the rhetoric about refugees and to create a climate of welcome. Audience members from these and other communities can access new technology that delivers captions, audio description or translation direct to individual tablet devices — opening up the world of theatre for everyone. It’s important work.
The tour of A Thing Mislaid continues at the Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton (17 October), The Brewhouse, Burton upon Trent (18th), Lakeside Arts, Nottingham (20th,) and Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester (21st). For further details, including links to box offices, visit maisonfoo.com.