Borders is the fourth play in Henry Naylor’s Arabian Nightmares series; I had the pleasure of reviewing the third play, Angel, at the Gilded Balloon last year, and was so impressed I felt I had to see this one. Bearing some of the hallmarks of Angel’s production, Borders does not disappoint, providing further insight into real lives behind news stories and statistics from the Middle East.
Here, two stories from very different lives play out until – perhaps predictably – they coincide in the last minute of the play. Sebastian (Graham O’Mara) is a photographer, who starts out idealistic and determined to capture gritty pictures from war-torn places. But it doesn’t make him any money, and he gets distracted from his earlier motivation, photographing celebrities instead.
Our second character (Avital Lvova) is a young Syrian girl, an artist who risks her own safety painting graffiti – which, as the show's programme explains, is a popular if dangerous medium of protest under dictator Assad. To avoid punishment she decides to escape, giving a face (if not a name) to one of the thousands of people who have set off in a little boat for perceived safety in the West. Calling her "Nameless" is a reminder that she is one of those thousands, and doesn’t compromise the individual human story she represents.
Similar to Angel, the stage is bare save for two stools. The actors take turns to deliver monologues, in each case adopting the technique used in Angel of performing both sides of a conversation. As testament to the skill of the actors, they evoke the world around them to dramatic effect; certainly my own imagination easily fills in the celebrity parties, grafitti walls and ocean, which would be a physical presence in a more traditional production.
Like Angel, Borders is accomplished, and it works for all the reasons that made the previous play so widely acclaimed. I hope there will be a play five, because Naylor’s skill at communicating this front-page conflict with humanity is important and accessible. But I also hope for an alternative method of delivery next time – the same treatment again might become formulaic.