After a fantastic run of highly rated and sold-out shows at the Fringe Festival this year, Pizza Shop Heroes was brought to HOME by Phosphoros Theatre, with the intention of “bringing unseen stories to light”.
The performers are not institutionally trained actors, but refugees, who sought asylum from their home countries and finally settled in the UK. After the tremendous and heroic journeys they endured alone, this production gives these men a platform for their stories to be rightfully heard.
The stripped-back set, composed of a countertop in an Indian/Italian pizza takeaway, allows for the performers to gain the main focus of the audience. They are frantically answering calls from customers and loved ones, sandwiched between a montage of ringtones and enough silence to share some of their stories.
Though English is not their first language, the cast do an incredible job at voicing their experiences. Their tales are recited from the third person perspective of ‘a young boy’, which dissociates their narrative viewpoint and poetically transcribes the horrific events which these men endured at such a young age.
I was initially unsure about the role of Kate within the production, however, after speaking to Liam and Dawn the following day, I felt more understanding towards her presence onstage.
Actors Teddy and Syed commanded the stage with ease and composure throughout their performances, and Emirjon added much comedic value. Captivating singing and instrumentals occur later in the performance from Goitom Fesshaye.
At times, all actors could have benefitted the audience by speaking a little slower, as regular-paced dialect can be difficult to pick up. The presence of microphones, however, seemed to give the individual performer a further sense of ownership over their speech.
Understandably, stage direction was kept fairly minimal as to not distract from the stories of the performers. However, I felt there could have been more creative input to aid the visual elements and lyrical nature of the monologues.
There was a beautiful moment in the piece involving creative use of aprons, forming a straight jacket with the actor being entangled and manipulated like a puppet; wrapped up within the confines of their working environment, these individuals spend all day answering calls and taking orders from people who never ask their name.
Scene seven saw a pizza board inscribed with the title: ‘Things You Need to Know About Coming to the UK’ grace the stage. This scene is undoubtedly funny, but has audience members realising the sad existence of prejudice, ignorance and assumption within the UK. The ending statement is powerful: “We will not be ignored. We have a right to life, to equality, to freedom from torture”, though it is unsettling to recognise that we live in times where a demand for basic human rights is still relevant.
At the end of the show, every member of the audience was invited onstage for 15 minutes to speak to the performers. Whilst people were getting out of their seats and heading towards the stage – everyone wanted a chance to say something to them, which was wonderful to see – I briefly spoke to the gentlemen sat behind me: he told me he was from the same country as one of the actors, and his words had really resonated with him. I wanted to ask if he could give me some more feedback towards my review, but he was so eager to congratulate the cast-members that he sped over before I had chance to.
I felt enlightened to see a theatre piece – with intentions of spreading awareness about issues we need to know more about – resonate so strongly with audience members.
Art is about making a statement on behalf of a cause which needs to be widespread knowledge. This is a piece of theatre which should be seen by all. We laugh, cry but, most importantly, we stand with them.
I won’t order a pizza again without asking the Pizza-boy’s name.
Pizza Shop Heroes will continue its tour until the end of November.
If you would like to know even more about Pizza Shop Heroes and how you can do your bit for the refugee crisis, please keep an eye out for my interview with Dawn Harrison and Liam Duffy.