Latest Review – Eye of a Needle (Southwark Playhouse)

Gutshot presents

Eye Of A Needle

by Chris MacDonald

The Little, Southwark Playhouse

Set in a UK immigration detention centre, Chris MacDonald’s provocative debut play follows the fortunes of three asylum seekers who claim to have been persecuted in their native countries for their sexuality. Mulugo (Ekow Quartey), a young Ugandan man, has no problem describing his sexual experiences to the immigration case worker and his lawyer Caroline (Laura Cairns), but Harrison (Quartey) finds it hard to show his scars and explain why “it is terrible to be gay in Jamaica.”

They are interrogated by Ted (Stephen Hudson) and his fresh-faced sidekick Laurence (Nic Jackman) who is more interested in his social life than his work and appears to be permanently hung over. The two men hold the fate of the asylum seekers in their hands but neither of them show any emotional involvement until they have to deal with the high-profile case of Ugandan gay rights activist Natale Bamadi (Ony Uhiara). Self-possessed, articulate and indignant, Natale runs circles around Laurence who becomes engaged with her plight and tries to help her. Ted, however, is determined to get Natale sent back.

In this play even the good guys are flawed. In a telling scene, Caroline offers Natale pro-bono legal advice, recognising that a positive outcome in a prominent case will enhance her own career. This is in sharp contrast to her treatment of Harrison who, because of government cuts, has to launch an appeal on his own. It is this sort of illuminating detail that makes Eye of a Needle such a credible and compelling drama.

Macdonald has evidently done his research (sources include Stonewall campaign literature). Incisive and topical, his play explores various themes from the media’s demonisation of immigrants to institutional racism and homophobia. He also sensitively covers the many pitfalls facing asylum seekers: the cuts in legal aid and how this impacts on appeals; how hard it is to prove one’s sexual orientation; how fear and trauma cause some to lie, while others prejudice their case because they misunderstand what is asked of them.

Although, Macdonald underlines the devastating consequences of sending vulnerable people back to dangerous environments he also uses humour to great effect, ensuring that Eye of a Needle never feels pious or over-worthy. He is well served by Holly Race-Roughan’s taut direction and a superb cast. The two stand-out performances are Jackman as the nervy, naïve apprentice, wired on alcohol and drugs, who undergoes a rite of passage, and Uhiara, superb as the cool and collected activist facing danger head on.

Fly Davis’s set – battered orange and grey plastic chairs centre stage, a desk packed with papers and broken phones one end and a grimy urinal the other – is suitably drab and depressing, reflecting the heartbreaking reality for asylum seekers in Britain today. Political theatre at its best, Eye of a Needle cries out to be seen by a wide and diverse audience.

Reviewer: Lucy Popescu


Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes, including one 15-minute interval.

Eye of a Needle’ runs at the Southwark Playhouse, London, until Saturday 20th September, 2014.



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