The Jungle, Woolly Mammoth and the Shakespeare Theatre Company

 Well, now you know.

It's a repeated theme over the course of the audience's stay in this theatrical version of The Jungle, a refugee camp erected hastily outside of Calais just a few years ago, recreated here in a production directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin. And I do mean recreated--Miriam Buether's set design has taken over part of the auditorium of Harman Hall, enhanced by Jon Clark's lighting design and Paul Arditti's sound design, and given life by the company in Catherine Kodicek's costumes, enclosing the audience in a seemingly ramshackle restaurant entirely separate from the normal theatrical space.

Photo of the cast of the 2023 St. Ann's Warehouse production of The Jungle by Teddy Wolff

Going into the production, written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson of Good Chance, the ensemble that set up a theatre in the heart of the refugee camp being depicted, I knew very little beyond what I had heard through friends along the theatrical grapevine in London and New York. I knew it had something to do with the current refugee crisis, and that it was very well done, but that alone couldn't have prepared me for The Jungle.

The urgency behind The Jungle is to shine a light on the stories of the men, women, and children who found themselves stranded in the Calais camp after an arduous, brutal journey that many don't survive but yet are compelled to take to escape homes that contain even worse dangers. As an audience member, most of us have a passing familiarity with the crisis of the refugee, but cannot fathom the reality that so many live. By attending the performance, we actively agree to not turn away from the harsh details, the complexity of the situation, or the humanity of those being depicted and the inhumanity of the collective societal response. It's not highlighted in the text, but it helps tremendously that not only was the play crafted by people who witnessed the camp first hand, but that several members of the company onstage were former residents of the Jungle themselves. 

There are a number of incredibly powerful performances within the company, with Ammar Haf Ahmad's narrator Safi and Ben Turner's Afghan restauranteur Salar the two that anchor the evening. 

Photo of Ammar Haj Ahmad in the 2023 St. Ann's Warehouse production of The Jungle by Teddy Wolff.

The effect of the entering the space is an arresting feature of the production, from the moment an usher directs you to go to your seat, divided into country zones. Cups of chai are distributed and the occasional ketchup bottle sits along the long counters at the bench seats. But it's the staging itself that lingers, with every corner of the space traversed by actors and near constant propulsion on and off the stage runways executed with extreme precision in a very crowded space.

Ultimately, no single theatrical production would even claim to hold the totality of the refugee experience, even within a specific time and place, and that's certainly not what The Jungle hopes to do. Instead, it asks audiences to listen, and to watch what's happening around us and in our name. We are reminded again and again, now you know. The power of The Jungle is that it sends us back out into our own lives with that knowledge, and leaves in our hands what we do with it going forward.


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