Under the Rainbow is the latest play I’ve seen for young audiences ‘inspired by’ the refugee experience. Prior to this play at Polka Theatre, the most recent couple of shows have been simple and stripped back – Tessa Bide’s A Strange New Space uses only a cardboard box and a few well-loved items in a rucksack, whilst Margarita Sidirokastriti’s One Item Only uses just 12 carefully chosen objects, with both plays telling the stories of displaced girls who have had to leave everything else behind. Under the Rainbow takes a very different approach – the narrative in this wordless production is largely told through Verity Quinn’s set design, with one woman’s courageous journey depicted through the transformation of the space. When her makeshift home, built from bits of corrugated roofing sheet and repurposed advertising boards, is washed away by rain, we watch as it is taken apart piece by piece, to form, instead, the sea and a boat. The set continues to reveal secrets and surprises once the woman reaches an island, as she finds the natural resources with which she can begin to rebuild her life.
Each element of Under the Rainbow, from Quinn’s ingenious set and vibrant puppets, to Julian Butler’s gorgeous music, to Marleen Vermeulen’s commanding performance, comes together to create what is, undeniably, an exquisite production, performed in Polka’s intimate Adventure Theatre. That the show is supposedly ‘inspired by’ the refugee experience gives me pause, however: Under the Rainbow is a successful play about surmounting difficulty and developing resilience, but perhaps not a successful play if measured by its incorporation or understanding of refugees’ experiences. Claiming this inspiration suggests that the play is rooted in reality, yet the show quickly travels into fantasy, so that the ending has the potential to feel idealized rather than hopeful. Still, if you can put that to one side, Under the Rainbow is a vibrant, timely reminder that we all live under the same sky.
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