During the Second World War, the ‘Empire’ and ‘Commonwealth’ heeded Britain’s rally cry and gave their support to the war effort. Post-1945, the shortage of workers prompted Britain once again to ask for the aid of the Commonwealth. And so began the exodus of people, who would later be known as the Windrush Generation… Written by Glenda Cooper and directed by Matthew Evans, Aid Memoir is a satire that looks at how the media in the West (and Britain in particular) portrays impoverished regions overseas and how implicit we as a society are in its perpetuation.
In the near future in post-Brexit Britain, society has all but collapsed. The UK’s efforts to shut itself from Europe has worked only too well, resulting in scant resources and a ‘feral’ mentality among the menfolk. Aid workers from Africa such as Martine (Remi Fadare) remain in camps, protecting young women as best they can, but also striking a precarious ‘truce’ with the YY chromosome fraternity. While ‘favourites’ aren’t strictly allowed, Martine has taken 17-year-old Chelle (Lucy Blott) under her wing and is in many ways a surrogate mother to her. The arrival of MTV ‘journalist’ Taz (Sabrina Richmond) upsets the equilibrium of the camp, whose stories of celeb ‘Lady J’s’ imminent arrival capture the imagination of the impressionable teenager and prompts thoughts that were hitherto unknown…
There is an underlying tension in the play between Marine and Taz. This can be put down to Martine being distrustful of the way the media often distorts what the focus of a story should be and omitting important details. There is, however, a personal dimension to their estrangement – an incident from the past that colours Martine’s opinion of Taz’s ‘integrity’. Certainly when faced with the reality of before her, we see Taz formulating how she can ‘repackage’ the plight of the UK to charitable donors in Africa and the MTV generation.
By showing Britain as a destination in need of international intervention, aspects of foreign aid are brought sharply into focus – how the West ‘engages’ with humanitarian disasters via ‘poverty porn’ and the slippery slope Britain presently finds itself, as ‘independence’ equates to denying everyone resources and a quality of life.
Aid Memoir is also very astute in addressing the ‘elephant in the room’ – if the refugees and the impoverished are all so cash-strapped, why do they all seem to have expensive smartphones? In the case of Chelle, we have the answer. Her one and only possession, her phone enables her as a young woman to stay one step ahead of the troublespots, to hear about where food or other resources are available and to keep in contact with her dispersed friends. In short, it’s her lifeline to the world.
But in a country that is so distrustful of ‘non-Brits’ – even when they are trying to help – will the international community give up and leave Britain to its isolation?
© Michael Davis 2018
Aid Memoir runs at The Pleasance (London) until 6th October.
NB: The role of Chelle is performed by different actors each night. As well as Lucy Blott, Chelle’s played by Ellie Kidd, Jordan Meriel and Katie Bartlett.