If you are looking to see an adaptation of one of greatest Greek epic poems known to man, Acklam Village Market’s Theatre Bay on Portobello Road is not an obvious choice of venue. At first glance the performance space looks like an industrial warehouse with its metal scaffolding, cold breeze and unforgiving acoustics. However, once seated you are transformed into a world of conflict and occupation depicted ingeniously by the dual-slanted concrete stage. It quickly becomes clear that it is the perfect setting for a play that tells the tale of the aftermath of war with themes which resonate loudly with the current refugee crisis.
When Nobody Returns is a collaboration between London-based theatre company Border Crossings and Ramallah-based ASHTAR Theatre of Palestine. Brian Woolland reimagines the classic story of Odysseus’ (Andrew French) journey back to Ithaka as a veteran of a particularly horrifying war, his wife Penelope (Iman Aoun) as a single but strong parent to their only child Telemachus (Tariq Jordan), who is a boy finding his way into manhood. The play not only skilfully explores the themes of the effects of the aftermath of a war on veterans and their families, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder and displacement, but also resilience in the face of oppression and occupation.
The connection that Woolland would like us to make between Ithaka and Palestine is one that is discreet but tasteful. It is conveyed only, but beautifully, through costume, set and choice of Palestinian-British actors. One of the most poignant scenes in the play is set in what is recognisably a modern day border checkpoint in which Penelope seeks permission to go to the seaside, which she fails to obtain. Instead she’s met with a threatening and patronising demeanour drawn clearly from the experiences of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints.
With impressive performances and an ingeniously used set and costume design, When Nobody Returns is a powerful but tragic insight into the aftermath of a war and the resilience of people who have been displaced or are living under occupation. It creates an impressive parallel between Homer’s world and the Middle East today and will certainly touch the hearts of those who are aware of the current refugee crisis.
Woolland’s The Flesh is Mine and When Nobody Returns runs from 21 October 2016 – 6 November 2016.