It was Karl Marx who called religion “the heart of a heartless world”; but finding that heart in cruel times is also one of the roles of art. Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play, Lampedusa, is named after the mid-Mediterraenan Italian island that lies between Sicily and Tunisia.
Lampedusa, Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow ****
Written at the height of the current refugee crisis, the play tells the story of a former Lampedusa fisherman, Stefano, who has found work helping to pick up those – sometimes alive, but far more often nightmarishly drowned – who have failed to make the perilous crossing from Africa.
Meanwhile, in Leeds, a brusque young woman called Denise is also encountering new migrants; although as a professional debt-collector, she usually meets them when she knocks on their doors demanding impossible loan repayments.
And over 75 minutes, Lustgarten’s play winds these two monologues into a rich pattern with one clear common thread: the absolute cruelty and inhumanity, often expressed through Orwellian bureaucracy, with which wealthy Europeans societies often now treat those classified – for whatever reason – as “outsiders”.
In the end, both Stefano and Denise find a way back to their own human hearts, through their contact with the “strangers” they meet.
Stefano’s rediscovery of joy and hope through his new African refugee friend is brilliantly evoked by Andy Clark as Stefano. And with Louise Mai Newberry conjuring up a hard-faced Denise gradually coming to recognise the possibility of love in her tough world, Jack Nurse’s production delivers an evening worth remembering, not least for its final long embrace between two people who have never met – a symbol of the mutual recognition of humanity, across all borders, which might one day save us all.