Vault Festival: Closed Lands


Cage at The Vaults, Leake Street Tunnels, Waterloo.


3-8 Mar, 6.15 pm. Running time 1 hr.


Written by Simon Grangeat (French), directed by Becka McFadden. Produced by LegalAliens/Exchange Theatre and performed by Lulana Bonfim (Angola), Daiva Dominyka (Lithuania), Catharina Conte (Brazil), Becka McFadden (Czech) and Lara Parmiani (Italy).

Closed Lands. Image by Steve Gregson
Daiva Dominyka in Closed Lands. Image by Steve Gregson


“A unique fusion of poetry, satire, reportage, multimedia and traveller’s diary … our lives become increasingly part of a giant video game in even the most dramatic situations … can be sold to the public as glamorous products”.


An exploration of walls, borders, protection, freedom and the plight of immigrants, Closed Lands uses verbatim stories and factual investigation alongside satirical pieces and multimedia to weave a show which is more a piece of reportage than drama. It presents itself as a series of chants or short poems.

An international cast of five open with the story of the fall of the Berlin Wall (told by Parmiani), with people streaming across the border and hope, take us through the horrors of waiting in the desert for a land to escape to, overfilled boats and drowned migrants, and removal policies, before we close on the other side of the barbed wire in a French detention centre.

Publicity image for Closed Lands, courtesy LegalAliens
Publicity image for Closed Lands. Courtesy LegalAliens

No one really escapes censure, although American presidents George W Bush and Trump feel like easy targets, and exaggerating them for comic effect weakens the message a bit (although Conte shows her clowning gift for both). Spain’s hypocrisy and the UK’s formalised pragmatism hit the mark more surely. Citizens, politicians, police and more are represented to show their biases.

There’s a lot going on. Words overlap and videos play, lighting struggles to land cleanly (whether this was deliberate or a technical issue I’m not clear), and there’s an overload of sound. For me, it was a bit too much and the sensitive stories relating to migrants trying to leave their countries either through legal or illegal means were lost at times.

With some consideration of how best to present the audiovisual elements (sound and projections by McFadden, filming by Conte) – not helped by the fact that the uneven bricks of the Cage are not a natural fit for video even from a central viewpoint – the human element of Simon Grangeat’s play can be coaxed more to the fore.

Closed Lands. Image by Steve Gregson
Catharina Conte in Closed Lands. Image by Steve Gregson

The pacing between scenes also needs a bit of work. At least three times nothing happens for several seconds while the lights dim and the actors change for the next scene. Such pauses can cause frustration and disengagement from the text, which has moments of beauty and which is delivered with conviction by all.

Closed Lands has an crucial message to deliver, but I felt it lacked an emotional anchor. I wanted to follow a character and hear their story, to feel their fear and understand their motivation. I wanted more exploration of the phrase “leaving isn’t living” and to understand more about asylum and illegal migration.

Judgement: Wow, Meow, or Furred Brow?

It’s a hesitant Meow for Closed Lands in its current form. I felt the piece was trying to do too much to the detriment of the stories we were hearing, although I cannot fault any of the performances or the intent behind the show.

Closed Lands has important pieces of information which should be revealed, reflected on and discussed, but at the moment they are in danger of being lost in the mix.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Closed Lands.