Review: ‘Tourists’

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The first of General Programme 2, Elliot Ancona’s Tourists is captivating from the very beginning; it opens with a rapidly consuming slideshow of the rules for entering ‘The Red Zone’, the setting into which Allie (Gayaneh Vlieghe), a young aid worker, returns. We are presented with a litany of guidelines that feel pressingly claustrophobic, and a red wash that intrudes on to the audience. There are implications that not all is as it should be with the aid workers of Peace Passage, presented conceptually from the outset.

Ancona’s writing is clear, clever

While Allie and Oscar (Freddie Parsons) gently banter in the opening scene, beside them sits Dee (Jack Firoozan), unlit yet discernible, his presence operating as an intruding figure of the unknown.  This idea of the unknown is important. The whole play is built on the crux of estrangement from home and what happens in that space. The title is particularly effective because it isn’t just Allie who is a tourist – it’s a lens that can be applied to each character and then reflected onto the audience. There’s a lovely repetition of the line ‘I’m sightseeing’ – a thinly veiled mask to Allie’s true intention that rings uncomfortably in more than one way.

Ancona’s writing is clear, clever – and it’s supported by an incredibly talented cast. ’s gritty Emerson offers a beautiful edge to Vlieghe’s innocence, and their final scene together, in which they stand side-by-side and face the audience is jarring in the best of ways. You can’t help but draw parallels between the younger, innocent Allie and the jaded Emerson, and it leaves uncomfortable questions of what actually constitutes selflessness. 

The skill is in the direction, the acting – there’s a sense of collaboration between cast and crew that has produced magnificently well-rounded characters. Jack Firoozan has an excellent naturalism that captures Dee’s movements between frustration, innocence and edge with ease, and there’s a lovely magnetism between him and the more delicate Vlieghe that is simultaneously sweet, subtle and enticing. More immediate backstory to Dee would have been useful to ground the audience from the outset, although this may be partially due to the cut-off length of DDF plays, which really challenges the writer to compress their ideas into a performance of sub-60 minutes. Here, however, is a play with mileage; it could easily have sustained a second act.

The brutality of the topic is balanced well with ’s Daniel, who offers a lightness but fundamental frailty to his character that both guides the audience and offers texture to the narrative. Freddie Parsons’ Oscar is commendable too; immediately likeable, he manages to offer an affability that corresponds well to the overarching question of the extent of the difference that these aid workers are making. 

It’s inventively staged, it’s got a brilliant cast

The concept itself is fresh – the discussion of voluntourism, with the growth of ‘volunteer holidays’, is one that isn’t going away, and here is a treatment of it that doesn’t just offer one, overarching perspective. There’s a fragility to the ending; it’s tentative and leaves you asking questions, which is what good theatre should do. The jumping narrative, supported by Emily Hicks’ technical direction, inventively uses colour and spotlight to highlight moments of flashback and changes in time frame and puts an emphasis on the audience to collaborate, to question, to understand. There’s a bit of Allie in all of us; a seemingly helpful altruism and tendency towards ‘helpful avoidance’ that perhaps should be counterbalanced with effective aid – it’s this which makes this show so compelling.

Ultimately, it’s wonderful; it’s inventively staged, it’s got a brilliant cast and every single aspect has been thoughtfully considered. Go and see it.

Image: Alex Leggatt

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