The third instalment of Terra Nova's Arrivals project immerses audiences in the domestic hardships of the UK immigration system
Home. It’s where most of us long to be when the going gets tough. But what are the potential pressures on a marriage between two people of different nationalities, especially if they decide to start a family on the other side of the world? What are the implications, for example, if one partner wants to go home?
The other may be agreeable but, in this case, he is a citizen of the non-EU country, in which they are currently resident. That’s when it gets really tricky. What should be a fair, rigorous, humanitarian process, turns out to be anything but.
Mi Mundo (My World) is the third stage of Terra Nova’s ever expanding Arrivals project, which examines the multi-faceted experience of what it means to be a foreign national living in Northern Ireland today. Directed by Tom Finlay (recently returned from research work in Beirut and Berlin), written by the company’s Canadian artistic director Andrea Montgomery (who was born in India and grew up in Thailand) and prompted by a true story which emerged last year during the workshops for Arrivals2, this interactive installation heads out into the sea of desolation that is the UK immigration system.
Belfast woman Lisa Cairnes and Peruvian Joaquin Domingo Santiago meet at a dance class in Lima. She has gone there to work on a house-building scheme for a charity called Habitat for Humanity; he is a professional dance teacher.
Their relationship starts platonically, but soon the heat and sensuality of the salsa and the tango start to seep into the partnership and it is not long before Lisa is welcomed into the Domingo family, with a ring on her finger and a baby on the way.
Life is rosy. Although money is tight and their apartment is cramped, family support and the couple's deep love for each other are major compensations. But when young Christo arrives, the pull of home strengthens and soon Lisa is pining to be closer to her own mother, learning from her how to rear a child and run a household.
With admirable generosity of spirit, Joaquin takes the hard decision to leave and start up again in a new country. Armed with a work visa granted by the Irish government, off the back of Lisa’s dual Irish/British citizenship, they arrive in Northern Ireland, full of optimism for the future and with a second child on the way.
A heart-warming story, you may think. But after a light-hearted opening, Montgomery starts to tighten the noose around a system in which the bureaucratic complexities of the Ireland/Northern Ireland/United Kingdom situation start to unravel and contradict one another, leaving its protagonists stranded helplessly in the cross-currents.
In a startling example of the way in which money talks, this couple find themselves faced with legislation implemented by the Westminster Government in 2012, requiring British men and women who marry partners from outside the EU to meet strict legal and financial conditions in order to sponsor their spouse to settle in Britain with them.
Research by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford reveals that the financial demands placed by the UK Government on bringing a spouse and two children home to the UK are beyond the reach of 70% of the population of Northern Ireland.
Under the uncompromising instructions of Andrew Stanford’s Master of Ceremonies, the audience is drawn into the thick of the action, viewing at close quarters the mounting pile of paperwork in Lisa’s carefully organised file. Art mimics life as the brisk promenade production invites the audience in, while at the same time corralling and directing them towards the areas where they may sit, stand and proceed.
Assembly point is a queue at Migraciones in Lima; departure point is a family picnic on a grassy common, where a distressed and depressed Joaquin tentatively rips open the envelope whose contents will determine his, his wife's and his children's fate.
Two courageous, close contact performances by Gemma Halligan and Javier Rasero bring us painfully close to the maelstrom of emotions and frustrations that punctuate their agonising struggle to avoid deportation.
While navigating a path through a series of fit-up tunnels of matrimony, parenthood and administrative confusion, Stanford also pops up as a variety of form stamping, letter writing, bad news imparting alickadoos, each one of whom lands the couple deeper into a mire of desperation.
The hard-hitting 45-minute performance element is followed by a lively classroom session, where, under the encouragement of facilitator Charo Lanao – who has her own traumatic story to tell – views and opinions are exchanged, hard questions asked and constructive suggestions offered as to how this valuable theatrical experience can be progressed in order to make a real impact on the 33,000 families in the UK, who live daily with this heartbreaking dilemma.
Mi Mundo (Arrivals3) tours to Down Arts Centre - January 25 & 26; Ards Arts Centre - January 27 & 28; The Courtyard Theatre, Newtownabbey - February 1 & 2; The Spectrum Centre, Belfast - February 3 & 4. Limited tickets available for each performance - see venue websites for further booking information.