REVIEW & OPINION BY TONY FRAME. VENUE 61. UNDERBELLY, COWGATE – WHITE BELLY
Jessica Phillippi writes and stars in her ambitious episodic poetry-drama, chronicling two migrant women and their struggles to make a better life for themselves as illegal aliens. What starts as a frenetic juxtaposition between her and her co-star (Elena Larios) eventually eases the viewer into understanding the back-and forth narrative that both actors play throughout, in this likeable and poignant story.
The contrasting stories of a US citizen in the UK, and a Guatemalan going to the US, both highlight the hypocrisy and complexities of the immigration system on both sides. Kudos has to be given to the amount of research here, which details some lesser known (and surprising) facts about being granted an immigration visa.
Phillippi’s writing demonstrates an excellent use of language that is rich with detail and helps the audience visualise the different locations and situations the characters find themselves in. This helps massively with the limitations of the set design and certainly adds to the atmosphere throughout the play.
Both actors do an impressive job playing multiple characters with slight nuances in appearance and changes in voice that helps distinguish who they are portraying. The direction from Heather Knudtsen has to be applauded for the multiple shifts on stage which flow seamlessly.
There is a lot to like in this story and the performances. I personally felt more of an engagement with the Guatemalan character than the American one, which lowers it just a notch for me in my final star rating.
Ultimately, both Phillippi & Larios have got a lot to be proud of from this mini-epic of a show. And there’s certainly a lot for the audience to digest and think about when the curtain closes.