Thaddeus Phillips’s self-written, self-directed one-man show 17 Border Crossings takes on new meaning in our current climate. With the ongoing refugee crisis and impending EU referendum, thinking about borders and other cultural, political or geographic divides seems particularly relevant.
It’s an unusual show, blending story-telling, movement and anecdotal comedy to depict a string of travel-related stories—seventeen in total and all involving crossing from one country to another. Phillips begins with a pacy monologue addressing the invention of the thing that enables us to do this—the passport—reeling off a speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V to grab the audience’s attention from the start.
The stories vary in length, content and perspective. Some are extremely funny, as when Phillips is abandoned in post-war Croatia and so relieved to see his ferry after four days of waiting that he is happy to hear it playing an overexposed Ace of Base song. Some stories are poignant, such as the brief snapshot of the Syrian refugee girl crossing in a boat to Greece and childishly asking her father “are we there yet?”
Thaddeus Phillips has a frank, likeable and relatable onstage persona throughout. He juggles the various elements of the show well, shifting into different languages, accents and characters at the drop of a hat. He also deals with all his own set changes, though unfortunately this does mean that some lines are lost as he rushes around the stage.
The production is simply and effectively staged, with great use of different light sources on an adjustable rig—flashing lights on either end denote the wings of a plane, while fluorescent strips create a clinical corridor. Audience perspective is altered frequently, for instance by having a table on its side depict an alpine chairlift viewed from above.
The weak point of 17 Border Crossings is that the stories are not clearly connected. We jump rapidly and disorientatingly from one to another, with little sense of coherence besides the general theme. Even if there is no overarching moral message to the show, a sense of why these particular stories have been collected together is lacking.
Phillips uses the second person to involve his audience in the stories, asking them to imagine themselves on a train in Communist Serbia or as American border patrol. The show could benefit from being more immersive however—staging it in a more unusual environment would better reflect the odd situations in which Phillips finds himself, whilst having interactive elements would involve the audience further.
Nonetheless, 17 Border Crossings is a unique and highly entertaining show that will make anyone want to grab their passport and create some more travel stories of their own.