Kin review – National Theatre, London

Photo: Malachy Luckie

Kin offers a largely wordless examination of migration at the National Theatre as part of MimeLondon but fails to scratch the surface of the issue, providing a visually arresting 80 minutes of theatre that, unfortunately, lacks substance. Presented by physical theatre company Gecko, the was inspired by the story of the artistic director Amit Lahav’s grandmother Leah who travelled from Yemen to Palestine, fleeing persecution.

She and her family form the basis of one of the two families that drive the narrative within Kin – what narrative there is at least. The story of Lahav’s grandmother is the most fully-formed of the two families; the other being more fluid and with a culturally-ambiguous origin. With each member of the company, all of whom are migrants (their real-life circumstances revealed at the play’s end), bringing their own stories to the play, the narrative becomes weighed down with barely-formed divergences from it.

It attempts to become a catch-all; there are snatches of audio from Holocaust survivors, suggestions of the Partition of India and the striking orange of life-jackets associated refugees crossing the Mediterranean or the English Channel.

Photo: Malachy Luckie

It is perhaps a commentary that these circumstances, with families driven from their homes and everything they know, could happen to anyone. But we are left to guess at the play’s message – it seems like a plead of understanding or empathy, but is that all? There are cartoonish border guards who lash out, beat and demean the migrants here, boiling migrancy and displacement down to a good versus evil story without unpicking any further.

With migration high on the political agenda as the Government seeks to force through its Rwanda Bill, and with almost 2 million people displaced in Palestine, the simpleness of Lahav’s take and the ambiguity of the story he is telling makes this feel like a missed opportunity. It is possibly a reflection on Lahav’s working practices which take three years to deliver a finished production – we are, in essence, watching a play that is part-based in the context of 2021.

It’s a shame: beyond the narrative, there is a wealth of visual magic. Rhys Jarman’s set design sees rooms come apart, blown apart and into new worlds – a sofa becomes a lifeboat – before returning to their previous form. Chris Swain’s lighting creates glorious cinematic sequences and heart-wrenching drama as characters find themselves begging under burning laps. If only it was more clear what they were asking for.

Kin plays the Lyttelton Theatre at the National Theatre, London until 27 January 2024 as part of MimeLondon 2024

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