A romantic comedy set in an immigration removal centre may not be to everyone's taste, but rather than feel trivial and inconsequential, Removal Men avoids the over earnest potholes that it creates and finds an interesting angle in which to explore our relationship with the refugee crisis. Sensitive, comic and at times quite moving it offers an alternative lens that blends the mundane with the surreal.
Billed as a play with music the piece suffers by overreaching in a number of key areas, blending genre and frequently trying to push boundaries too hard that the wheels in motion and mechanics become too obvious. The moments of musical accompaniment are short, detached and tuneless and seem more of an underdeveloped idea than a meaningful addition to the sharp and frequently witty text. Whearas musical theatre pushes characters to a point where their only choice is to express themselves through song, here music feels arbitrary and used out of interest rather than necessity, coming across as a pretentious addition that clouds the momentum that the script effectively builds.
Musical distractions aside, Harding and Miller have crafted a strong script that balances humour and pathos in equal measure, maintaining a consistent tone that unpacks the world of the immigration centre in a functional, sitcom like manner. Some may argue that this removes the weight of the situation, but that is surely the point of the comedy that holds a rough-around-the-edges charm, created from three distinct characters who are effectively used to paint a wider picture.
Attention has certainly been paid to the context, and this isn't a subject that has been entered into lightly by either the writers or the creative team. What has the potential to seem like a rash or glib handling of a heated topic such as migration seems instead astutely researched, and a cloud of responsibility hangs over the production from the introductory notes handed to the audience on arrival to the bucket collection at the end.
Through three well developed characters Harding and Miller are able to explore our wider attitudes to migrants, using the microcosm of the detention centre to show the alienation and power both sides feel. We're forced to question both the officers understanding of the system and our own preconceptions with the structures of power and safeguarding, making for a thought provoking, albeit slightly one dimensional account. As one character falls in love with a detainee, another is accused of loving systems and processes and the tension between the characters is widened to debate human beings as people, regardless of their background, and them as statistics, from the omnipresent Home Office.
It's finely acted by a tight trio of Barnaby Power (George), Clare Perkins (Beatrice) and Mark Field (Mo) who develop a strong chemistry between them and work hard to break down barriers with the audience early on, mainly through gratuitous sexual conversations that include a huge vibrating butt plug. Most comfortable when spatting and taunting in the work place rather than the more experimental moments of song and dance, their faith in their characters ensures that we latch on at some level to them emotionally, although they never push the boundaries of believability that keeps the play grounded.
Miller directs with a strong visual sense, working in harmony with Bethany Wells' simple yet present design that blends digital media with lighting and strong sound design that attempts to push boundaries on all sides. At times the smoke and mirrors detract from the central message and I can't help feel that the play tries to do too much rather than having ultimate faith in the script and the strongly plotted central message.