Pizza Shop Heroes is an hour-long piece of autobiographical theatre; the four actors on stage, Tewdoros (Teddy), Goitom, Emirjon and Syed told their stories of being refugees, their dangerous journeys to England and the displacement they feel in the UK. This isn’t the first play by Phosphorous theatre company, who have been creating exciting refugee theatre since 2015.
From the onset, the chemistry between the four men was evident. Their acting skill was mixed, but this didn’t take away from our engagement in the show and if anything it made it feel less performative and more intimate.
They used a mix of styles to explore their experiences, including physical theatre and movement, multi-roling and spoken word. Given the content matter, some parts of the show were sombre and affecting, but there was an equal amount of comedy and warmth, such as dancing to Eritrean pop music and making jokes about how awful the weather is in Britain. Titles for scenes written on pizza boxes, stylistic kneading of dough and the simplistic pizzeria set helped to frame the narrative.
As two drama students used to performing in small scale shows for an audience of predominantly UEA students, we often feel frustrated that we can’t create relevant theatre that has an impact on audiences. Similarly, the shows we usually see tend to be simply entertainment rather than boasting a useful message. Pizza Shop Heroes, however, was a refreshing show in that amidst the fun of watching a play, we were also seeing something pressing and important. This was evident too in the diversity of the audience the show attracted, which was by far the broadest variety of people we’ve seen in a Norwich theatre.
Our main criticism of the show was the inclusion of ‘Kate’, an artistic director of Phosphorous who also acted in the play. She often interjected with narration directly to the audience, giving more context to what the men were saying. This often felt patronising and over-acted. We were so drawn in by the stories of the four men, that Kate’s regular interjections felt jarring and unnecessary. The men were incredibly engaging, and the fact that a non-refugee character was included – in perhaps an effort to bridge the gap between the cast and audience – was not only condescending to us, but belittled the actors, who could have easily carried the show on their own.
After the cast bowed, Syed spoke directly to the audience about the 39 men and women found dead in an Essex lorry last week. He stressed how all four actors had taken the exact same journey into the UK. His impassioned speech highlighted the UK government’s neglect, and offered a call to action that really highlighted the power of theatre and of the play. Walking out of Stage Two we felt inspired and were really glad we had the opportunity to see the show.