Thursday, 16 November 2017

REVIEW: Hiding Heidi at Etcetera Theatre

After 23rd June 2016, many have been wondering about the future of all EU citizens currently residing in the UK. Especially those, like me, who come from Europe and can no longer ignore the incertitude of a future in Britain. Some have already planned to return to their home countries, but many are reluctant to do so, as their entire life is now in the UK.

Playwright and director Ian Dixon Potter explores this issue from a dystopic and near-apocalyptic perspective, depicting a heavily-policed country where drastic measures are taken to prevent the presence of illegal European workers. 

Mid-age engineer Ralph (Richard De Lisle) and his elderly mother Dorothy (Maxine Howard) are looking for a carer, which seems to be an impossible task now that all jobs must be carried out by British people. They end up illegally hiring Heidi (Siobhan Ward), a nurse from an unspecified European country. The woman has been living in Stoke on Trent for nearly five years, before losing her job in a hospital, as a result of the changes in the employment law. She is unwilling to go back to her country, as she admits that all her friends and future plans are based in England, and she's willing to accept an underpaid and potentially risky job rather than leaving.

As the story unfolds, with Heidi being forced to hide inside a priest hole every time the doorbell rings, I notice a copy of George Orwell's 1984 on the coffee table, to remind audiences of the threatening and watchful presence of a coercive government. Within this context, also features a new-born country, called the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.

In this urgent piece of new writing, some of the characters feel like an ongoing work, with their psychological profiles still underdeveloped. Heidi doesn't make a secret of her desperation for an opportunity to stay in her adopted country and falls in love with Ralph almost as a necessity. She comes across as entirely resigned to her fate and unable to fight for her rights. 

Ralph however, voices the concerns of those who supported the 'remain' campaign, but does so with a propagandistic tone that makes him appear bi-dimensional. His strong point of view earns more lines than the opposing arguments, but his delivery feels unnatural. In fact, his beliefs clash with the most extremist views on immigration and Muslim faith, rather than with a reasonable counterpart. 

Dorothy's change of opinion from a Brexit supporter to an advocate of free
immigration in Britain represents the only convincing development within the plot, but I'm sceptical about the casting of an actress who's visibly younger than the character and needs to rely on a tacky grey wig to earn more credibility.

The musical choice, with hits from the past decades, offers good support to the narrative, whereas the set suggests a certain element of naivety or an extremely low budget – since even a mirror is replaced by a painted cardboard version of it.

Hiding Heidi carries a timely political message and suggests the pessimistic, but possible, direction of British foreign politics in years to come. To earn realism and become more plausible, its dialogues should explore some more balanced points of view, before highlighting the ones to stick to.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★
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