Courage is often re-defined and misunderstood, and yet most could never comprehend the courage of the Ghanian men depicted in Esther O’Toole’s play The Crossing. As they leave their home villages in Ghana, they travel the stretches of the continent to try and reach in Europe – their land of opportunity.
The touching story follows three men - Adofo, Monday and Daddy - who are strangers to each other were it not for the desire to find a better life for themselves and their families in Europe, which looms ever closer yet remains just out of reach for the characters throughout the 90 minute escapade which stretches most of Africa, from Ghana to the Sahara to Tripoli. Adofo has been to Europe before on a dodgy student visa and longs to prove himself once more to his betrothed; Monday is a talented and ambitious youngster who is often protested to talk too much and Daddy, the last to join the trio, is the streetwise and self proclaimed President of the Ghanian camp at Libya’s borders. Michael Offei, Michael Kofi and Kwaku Boateng portray these tremendously brave men with charm and ease despite there being little more on Theatre 503’s stage to present their situation other than their great performances. A projection breaks up the scenes with an African geography lesson of sorts, literally mapping out each step, and ending with the name and location of each upcoming scene, providing a deep foundation and plot guide that seemingly intrigues the Ghanian characters as well as the audience. There is desert and jungle to find passage through, difficult dictator-types to negotiate with without losing an eye, fake papers to purchase and sly police to avoid, all while coping with the harsh weather conditions that Africa offers and the psychological hardships that such a trip cannot fail to cause. The direction, lighting and sound almost come together in harmony to bring the audience to each of these places, creating a scene of senses and imagination rather than trying to recreate them visually, which was ambitious and very well done. The director cleverly crams the actors into even smaller spaces as the story develops, illustrating the growing desperation of the situation and the characters.
The companionship between the men proves vital to each of them in a variety of ways, from conversation to comfort to debate, in order for them to cope with the horrors and the challenges of their epic journey. Along with this companionship is the welcome distraction of the ever looming World Cup, which provides many a laugh amongst the very serious subject matter. Monday dreams of being a professional footballer (and musician and lover) for his country just like so many of this reviewer’s childhood friends and many of her older and supposedly wiser friends. This dream in men (of any age apparently) is worldwide and the scene that shows our three heroes' achingly tense wait for update texts from Monday’s easily distracted sister who watches the game back in Accra is so familiar and cleverly written that you find yourselves willing Ghana to win because, as with football-keen men in England, it would provide them with several days of unshakeable pride and distraction.
There is much potential for this play and I can’t wait to see where O’Toole takes it next, but this reviewer left a little more educated yet quite underwhelmed. This material should blow you away like a great Saharan sand storm, but you are left protected by familiarity and what felt like a slight fear to take the audience completely out of their comfort zone.
The Crossing is fascinating and will surely open a few eyes to the humanity of the immigrants that the media so often dehumanises and criminalises. You are left to understand that sometimes you are left with no choice except to take all your courage and dive right into a society that will not help or guide but simply judge you, purely for the chance of something better.