Donmar Warehouse, London

Review - Europe at Donmar Warehouse

Our critics rating: 
Saturday, 29 June, 2019
Review by: 

No matter how good Michael Longhurst’s production of David Greig’s play Europe – the new artistic director’s first production at the helm of the Donmar Warehouse – is, I can’t help but imagine how depressing it must be for those who saw the play when it was first staged over 20 years ago.

There’s a depressing familiarity to the hatred shown in Greig’s nameless border town, which we first experience through its train station. Two weary travellers have found themselves here, resting on the bench waiting for the next train out, unaware the effect they are to have on the residents.

Those residents, it turns out, are in turmoil by the changing face of their home. Factories closing, workers are being replaced by machines, even the trains aren’t stopping here anymore. In the bars, the local right-wing factions are blaming ‘the Blacks’ and ‘the Browns’; those that don’t call here home.

Greig’s play sweeps through the core of this town. We see how two refugees – father and daughter Sava and Katia – are taken under the wing of stationmaster Fret and his apprentice, and grow to almost belong here. But Katia knows they must keep on the move while Sava, an ex-railway worker himself, finds an affinity with the initially hostile Fret.

Longhurst’s decision to stage this as his first production feels almost like a no-brainer, almost every line seems to speak to today. But it also gives him an opportunity to really exercise the intimacy of his new space. The final scene – in which these xenophobic tensions come to ahead – lets him indulge in some explosive stagecraft with satisfying results, the effects only amplified by the Donmar’s intimate setting.  

He’s assembled a strong cast for his first time out here, including the ever-reliable Ron Cook as Fret, a dishevelled but passionate Natalia Tena as Katia, and Faye Marsay as the innocent train spotter Adele.

The play introduces a romantic element between foreigner Katie and local girl Adele, who becomes enamoured with the refugee and ups sticks to travel with her. Their relationship seems somewhat implausible and unnecessary – Katia shows no sign of fancying Adele and for the most part, is irritated by her presence.  

Billy Howle, Stephen Wight and Theo Barklem-Biggs as the three young local workers – each employing a Yorkshire accent, as does everyone from the town - represent the mindlessness and anger of some right-wing advocates.

It’s a poignant and enjoyable start to Longhurst’s first season, which is clearly setting out to tell stories about and shed a light on the world we live in.

Europe is at the Donmar Warehouse until 10th August. 

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