AFOAF Artistic Director comments on The Young Vic’s latest transfer to the West End: The Jungle, a new play by Joe Murphy & Joe Robertson, directed by Stephen Daldry & Justin Martin.
First of all, let’s talk about the booking process. Contrary to standard theatre convention, you aren’t booking for the Stalls, Dress Circle, instead you are given a choice: Afghan Café, or Cliffs of Dover. I gave this two considerations, firstly, if they’ve gone to the trouble of creating an immersive show, it seems wasteful not to sit in the café. Secondly, all things considered with the theme of the play itself, sitting in the white Cliffs of Dover and looking down on the cast and audience in the café seemed, shall we say, a little too on the nose.
ATG/The Young Vic have cleverly assigned seat types the seats in the various zones in the Afghan Cafe, which alert you to exactly what to expect from your chosen area. Whereas these alerts would usually let you know that you have a restricted view due to a pillar, they are now advising you that this seat is on a cushion onstage, that one is on a padded wooden bench, and that this other one is on a padded bench with a table. Most importantly, each seat alert tells you whether or not to expect back support from your chosen view. My days of being able to suffer a 2hr30 show on a narrow bench with no back are long gone, so if you’re anything like me, I highly recommend rows P and Q for a great view and a very comfortable back and posterior.
The performance begins long before the play does: cast mill about, the front of house wear hi-vis waistcoats like the volunteers in the play, you are offered chai tea, and receive flyers for a meeting in the Afghan Café to talk about possible eviction notices on the camp. You become a member of the community, without them having to even begin on the meat of the performance.
There has been an increase in visible artistic activism, or message led performance, and why not? People are angry. There are a lot of issues, and the news seems to be more concerned with telling us about royal weddings or sporting scores, than about the real problems that happening in the UK, and the world. Theatre-makers are using the tools at their disposal to engage with audiences, incite debate, encourage us to consider different perspectives, and ultimately, breed an empathy that is hard to find when simply reading about issues in the Metro on a morning commute.
Whether it be a comparison of two perspectives of the coughing major’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire? case (Quiz by James Graham), or thrusting the audience into the middle of the Calais refugee camp and transforming the residents from nameless statistics into people to be empathised with (The Jungle by Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy), or a painfully honest glimpse into how a family copes with a cancer diagnosis (A Monster Calls directed and devised by Sally Cookson, based on the book by Patrick Ness); theatre is reinvigorated by a drive for candour and sincerity, and an unwillingness to shy away from uncomfortable subjects.
This tone, combined with an incredible set designed by Miriam Buether, makes The Jungle one of the most vital plays of 2018. It’s running until 3rd November, so don’t miss your chance to see it.
It will be eye-opening, and it won’t leave you for some time.
The Jungle is playing at the Playhouse Theatre until 3rd November.
Find out how to book: https://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/the-jungle-west-end