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A CurtainUp London Review
Europe

"It looked like a small town: the kind of place people come from, not where they go to."
— Katia
Europe
Horse (Theo Barkem-Biggs) Billy (Stephen Wight and Berlin (Billy Howle)
(Photo: Marc Brenner)
Opening his tenure as Artistic Director at the Donmar Warehouse, is Michael Greig's 1994 play, Europe. It could have been written yesterday. It is set in a railway station somewhere in Europe with rail connections to Warsaw and maybe Budapest and Rome. Working in the station are Fret (Ron Cook) the old fashioned stationmaster and Adele (Faye Marsay) a trainee with a passion for imaginary travel. The station is close to the border but we have no idea as to which border it is.

Adele's man Berlin (Billy Howle) and his workmates are furnace men who are being laid off from the local industry. One of their friends is Morocco (Shane Zaza) a travelling dealer in merchandise. David Greig has employed a chorus like in Greek plays to explain in song that the station is a passing place.

Chloe Lamford's set has an upper level of peeling posters and plaster walls with the station office below lined with aging red tiles and old chairs. Luggage trollies will serve to change location to Adele and Berlin's house. Ian Dickinson's soundscape has the noise of the trains, metal girders shake above the station as the trains pass through.

Two travellers arrive just as the stationmaster has been told that there will be no more trains. They are father and daughter, Sava (Kevork Malikyan) and Katia (Natalia Tena). While Fret tries to dissuade them from waiting as there will be no trains; they settle down for the night on the station benches. Fret gets exasperated and tells them when they make tea that they are a breach of the regulations. Of course Sava offers Fret a cup of tea.

We do not know where Sava and Katia have come from and they are unsure as to whether the place they have come from still exists. While Katia is irritable and tetchy, her father is eminently reasonable and we warm to his conciliatory nature. This scene reassures us about the nature of migrants and our common humanity.

While Adele dreams of going to cities like Budapest, Billy (Stephen Wight) of the unemployed furnace men decides to leave, by coach of course, but his colleagues Horse (Theo Barlem-Biggs) and Berlin stay and Horse joins the far right protest against migrants. Adele's imagination is of a place she has never been to but she is optimism personnified. Meanwhile Fret and Sava bond when Fret discovers that Sava too was a railwayman and that they have so much in common. Adele too bonds with Katia although the migrant woman is very resistant.

The play is allegorical and its title tells us where we are and the play illustrates what is happening to where we live. There is plenty of food for thought as we watch Fret and Sava join purpose and Fret changes attitude. There is violence too against Morocco and Sava. Fret has to cope with increasing bureaucracy with new timetables that are like encyclopedias and impossible to fathom. Youth are left with no employment and search for a scapegoat. Isn't it remarkable how a play written 25 years ago can have such a profound impact?

The performances are all round good but I think Natalia Tena's portrayal of a complex personality was especially interesting. Ron Cook is always good to watch and his scenes with Kevork Malikyan as the patient Sava particularly heart warming.

The plays closes on a spectacular coup de theatre which will see Chloe Lamford nominated and probably win Best Design but which critical etiquette means I cannot divulge here. This is indeed a most exciting start to Michael Longhurst's reign at the Donmar.





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PRODUCTION NOTES
Europe
Written by David Greig
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Starring: Ron Cook, Kevork Malikyan, Faye Marsay, Natalia Tena, Shane Zaza, Stephen Wight, Theo Barklem-Biggs, Billy Howle
Design: Chloe Lamford
Lighting Design: Tom Visser
Sound Design: Ian Dickingson for Autograph
Composer: Simon Slater
Movement: Imogen Knight
Running time: Two hours 05 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 020 3282 3808
Booking to 10th August 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th June 2019 evening performance at The Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, London WC2H 9LX (Tube: Covent Garden)
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