People fleeing danger in their homeland to come to the UK has become one of the central stories of our time. Everyone is familiar with the ‘refugees welcome’ campaign and the rhetoric of anti-immigration politics. An original play by Haringey Shed was based on the journey of a young girl who finds herself in Tottenham after her life is uprooted by war.
Inspired by the experience of a young person who is a part of Shed, The Dividing Line packed an emotional punch. You could feel the pain of the lead character Zainab, who is bullied at school for being an obvious outsider. They pick on her for being an immigrant, for wearing a hijab and even for crying.
The bullies are ruthless and cruel, but there is comedy there too. Their extreme enthusiasm whenever someone comes up with a creative insult to taunt the weird new girl, is like a caricature of how teenage gangs behave. The rowdiness of these characters would have been familiar to anyone who’s been on a bus with school kids.
The parts where the cast filled the stage were the most exciting. They weaved around each other, creating moving tableaus. Everywhere you looked someone was holding an interesting pose or expression.
There was a keyboardist playing live throughout the show, with the aide of a laptop. It was a complementary, non-intrusive soundtrack that created the mood for each scene. The show had songs too, including one with lyrics about Gogglebox. It reminded me of the type of whimsical ditty they have in the cartoon Bob’s Burgers. The performance was interpreted in sign language.
The boy who helped Zainab in her hour of need was a relatable ‘good guy’. The actor conveyed someone who was brave and emotionally intelligent. You got the sense that he genuinely cared for her. The role of Zainab’s mother was played by an adult with a fantastic singing voice that moved the audience and made them sympathetic to her struggle.
The set was minimal, with just four abstract sculptures in the corners of the stage, and little else. The play was performed in the round, as if in a studio theatre. Many of the best plays I’ve seen have been done this way. The staging was elegantly realised, with the players facing different sections of the audience at different times.
With The Dividing Line, Haringey Shed created something sensitive, engrossing and topical to boot.