Reviews – Warehouse of Dreams

Camden Review says:

‘Powerful performances all round in Warehouse of Dreams’

Posted: 20 November 2014
Camden Review

LESS is more. Six actors, one set. Yet this outstanding play encapsulates the myriad assumptions and protocols, the statistics and reality of giving and receiving refugee aid.

Moriarty, whose complex personality and anguished back-story is brilliantly explored by Jamie Thompson, has overall control of a Middle East refugee camp. Known as “Lord Mayor”, he has to negotiate between the ideologies of the aid providers against the reality of the recipients, a human population of the good, the bad and everything in between.All the characters confront dilemmas of moral integrity; Moriarty must appease the rebel leader to achieve a peaceful outcome; a TV journalist manipulates the naive communications officer in order to achieve an “exclusive” news report; and the charity’s regional director looks for any unnecessary camp expenditures while travelling the world first class. All the actors inhabit their roles superbly. Special mention to Balqis Duvall, her portrayal of 14-year-old Sabeen is heart-wrenching in its intelligence and ambition.

If this sounds too worthy or too grim then the writing from Chuck Anderson and Dan Phillips’s directing lift this play towards a thought-provoking analysis of altruism and humanity.

I urge you to see this play.

Every ticket sold will include a £2 donation to War Child, a Camden-based charity that protects children from the effects of war.


The Stage says:

‘ an engaging cast present a powerful story’

Posted: Mon Nov 17 2014
Balqis Duvall plays Sabeen

A play about aid workers running a Middle Eastern refugee camp runs the risk of being terribly worthy, but, despite Warehouse of Dreams being frequently educational in tone, a charming cast prevents it from teetering into preachiness.

As the United Nations senior field officer in charge of the camp, Jamie Thompson’s Moriarty is charismatic, jaded and thoughtful. Thompson portrays his sense of frustration brilliantly, impressively capturing the essence of a passionate man who has been ground down by the inherent difficulties of his all-consuming job.

As the more detached regional director, who is visiting the camp, Emma Vansittart’s Griselda seems outwardly more compassionate, but it becomes apparent this is because she shields herself from the horrors that surround Moriarty. The supporting characters of rebel leader ‘The Colonel’ and young refugee Sabine (Balqis Duvall) are equally engaging, although who knows how close to reality they are. Luca Pusceddu’s chilling Colonel delivers horrifying pearls of wisdom to justify an arranged marriage – his palpable contempt for women is truly disturbing and unfortunately probably very realistic.

However, there is a haunting element to the play that doesn’t make as much of an impact as it should – it is during these episodes that the story’s emotional impact weakens. Perhaps if writer Chuck Anderson had just stuck to the practical story rather than getting side-tracked with dream sequences, the end result could have been even more powerful.

Verdict: An engaging cast present a powerful story, slightly muddled by a few too many dream sequences.

By Catherine Usher

Time Out says:

‘a tightly written exploration of the troubling world of refugee camps’

Posted: Fri Nov 14 2014

When it comes to the Middle East, questions about the West’s moral compass are nothing new. So it’s to playwright Chuck Anderson’s credit that he’s come at this well-trodden issue from a new perspective.

Emma Vansittart plays Griselda. Jamie Thompson is ‘Lord Mayor’ Moriarty.

‘Warehouse of Dreams’ is a tightly written exploration of the troubling world of refugee camps. Anderson asks complex questions about the usefulness of humanitarian work, and is bold enough not to spoon-feed us answers. He offers up a provocative piece of philosophy. World-weary UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) senior field officer Moriarty (a ruggedly convincing Jamie Thompson) has years of experience setting up camps. These are compromised societies run by corrupt refugees, and we’re quickly made to see what their – and increasingly Moriarty’s – wheeling and dealing costs. But then, as he argues to his fresh-faced, foppishly naïve communications officer, James Stanton (played by a suitably irritating Chris Clynes), sometimes compassion needs to take a back seat when you’re setting up a new camp.

Stanton represents the new face of the UNHCR: all corporate speak and ‘the children are the future’. But it’s Moriarty who really gets stuff done. He might be a ‘dinosaur’, as his regional director calls him, but as we listen to his eloquent arguments it’s clear Anderson is siding with the old guard here.

The performances are strong. Balqis Duvall is particularly compelling as a precocious and vulnerable 14-year-old refugee, bringing some much-needed heart to Anderson’s worthy but emotionally cool arguments.

By Honour Bayes

London says:

‘subtly and sensitively handled’

Posted: Fri Nov 14 2014

Warehouse of Dreams is the story of a refugee camp in a nameless part of the Middle East during an unspecified conflict. But this is not a story of war; this is not even a look at the effect on the innocent civilians. Warehouse asks the rather tough question, when does Western aid become Western interference?

Chris Clynes as Stanton and Luca Pusceddu as ‘The Colonel’.

The focus of Chuck Anderson’s script is a brave one, but through the central character of Moriarty, and the decisions he must make to keep the peace, it is subtly and, more importantly, sensitively handled. Issues range from food distribution to arranged marriage, highlighting that just because these people have left their lives behind and are now in Western care, doesn’t mean their culture and traditions must end.

Anderson manages to inject an air of impartiality into the proceedings, mainly through well-rounded characters. There’s the reporter looking for justice, the diplomat looking for results, the young Muslim girl with a taste of the Western world and the idealistic aid worker. With each given a unique voice, views and opinions never seem forced; instead arguments are delivered with the audience left to come to their own conclusions.

Holding this altogether is Moriarty, an aid worker charged with the welfare of a group of people who have lost everything. Though he oozes charm, Jamie Thompson plays the role with subtle depth. As he straddles a line between diplomacy and corruption, he successfully personifies the core message of the play; in war, there is never a clear winner, there is just compromise.

He plays off well with the rest of the cast but it was his scenes with Luca Pusceddu’s Colonel that really shone. Though nothing more than a gangster, his role as voice of the people makes him a necessary evil, both a thorn in Moriarty’s side, and a blessing. With neither of them on stable ground their arguments crackle beautifully.

Director Dan Phillips has always had a knack for dialogue heavy scripts, driving it forward with a pace that always feels natural, yet never lingers.  Working with a very thin narrative Phillips brings a structure to the proceedings, meaning that by the final bow you feel both the characters and story have reached a satisfying conclusion.

There were times when I felt that the script could be tighter, even at 90 minutes without an interval. Though Moriarty’s backstory was interesting, and never once felt tacked on for the sake of depth, sequences when it was realised through nightmares felt slightly unnecessary. They did break the action up a bit, but maybe this wouldn’t be as needed with a shorter running time.

The subject matter of Warehouse of Dreams may put some people off, but the refugee camps and the lives of the people are merely described there to create understanding, not to shock. The impact of the play comes from its exploration of Western involvement in outside conflict, making this a slick production worth checking out.

By Max Sycamore

The British Theatre Guide says:

‘strong characterisations which make this a conflict not just of ideas but between people’

Posted: November 2014

Chuck Anderson’s play may be fiction but it draws its material from real life captured in news reports and in UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) documentation to present the dilemma of those who are involved in trying to help the thousands of displaced people in refugee camps.

A UNHCR Regional Director is visiting the refugee camp in the Middle East being set up by Senior Field Office Moriarty. It is six kilometres from the border across which UNHRA estimates 10-12,000 refugees in the first year. He says ten times that number.

Moriarty is a pragmatist—others may say he his heartless—but he handles the people he deals with on their terms. He knows there is corruption and self interest at work but if he can’t do things by the book he bends the rules to get the best results—even if it means being party to scams of the former rebel leader who calls himself The Colonel.

Newly arrived UNHRC Communications Officer Stanton represents the more naïve humanitarian whose compassion could compromise him and clever fourteen-year-old refugee girl Sabeen is there to represent its motivation.

Though the script is at times too noticeably packed with facts and figures and the characters obviously represent certain positions, the cast present strong characterisations which make this a conflict not just of ideas but between people.

Emma Vansittart makes Regional Director Griselda a seasoned observer and Chris Clynes’s Stanton is appropriately full of idealistic innocence in contrast to the blustery charisma of Luca Pusceddu’s demanding and wily Colonel.

Balqis Duvall has a charming directness as Sabeen, who fled from school when those against girls being educated shot her teacher, but with a manipulative streak that seems half-way between a child’s manipulation and young woman’s wiles. Chandrika Chevil as a British journo has little on which to build a character and seems there mainly to elicit information.

More complex is Moriarty. Jamie Thompson’s intelligent performance makes him perhaps a little too likeable, however, hardened by experience, he still shows great humanity in his relationships as well as in his inner thinking. Playing younger than written gives an intriguing extra edge to a sexual fantasy about Griselda.

The action is interwoven with scenes which lowered lighting and a music cue are meant to signal as dream episodes that present his personal problems, the isolation and loneliness and the guilt and horror that haunts him from a key past moment when he had to decide between an individual life and group benefit.

That transition is not sufficiently clearly signalled as not being real life, which makes them confusing until it sinks in that they are nightmares. Although each ends with angry off-stage crowd noise there is nothing to indicate that each has the tragic ending that the script describes.

Despite this failing, Dan Phillips’s direction concentrates the attention on the difficulties of the situation. Rosie Motion’s setting of corrugated iron and chicken wire on a sand-covered floor hints at the Middle East and a situation where the relief team has no better (and probably worse) accommodation than those for whom they are responsible.

It seems to all take place in this shack, which may not be what is intended, and it is not clear what is the time span, but that does not affect the impact of this intriguing work.

By Howard Loxton

Ham & High says:

‘a drama that reads better than it plays’

Posted: 27 November 2014

‘Every 15 seconds a Middle Eastern child becomes a refugee’.

This is a quote from Balqis Duvall who plays Sabeen – a fourteen-year-old girl living in ‘The Warehouse’ refugee camp. With a Syrian father and a childhood growing up in Kuwait, Balqis gives this play a special resonance with her exceptional performance.

US TV screenwriter Chuck Anderson has based the play on personal experiences in Syria along with recorded documents from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Walls of corrugated iron give us the setting for the UN office in a Middle Eastern desert. Moriarty (played by Jamie Thompson) runs the refugee camp of 125,000 displaced residents with pragmatism and a total lack of sentimentality. He believes the community should be allowed to grow organically and independently rather than be patronised by the UN. They can never go home and have to make their living within the camp. He is called the Lord Mayor and all believe he is a man without a heart. He never reveals to anyone the nightmares of appalling atrocities he has when he sleeps.

Sabeen persuades Stanton, Moriarty’s kind hearted young assistant that she should get a job with the UN. She is very intelligent and speaks good English but Moriarty refuses to help her. He tells her to get an education so she can be of use to her country. Many subjects are explored including corruption within the camp and young girls forced into arranged marriages. There are criminals who intercept the electricity supply to the UN and sell it to the rest of the inmates. Much of the conflict in this play is between Moriarty and the wealthy Muslim Colonel but it’s a weak production of a drama that reads better than it plays.

With every ticket purchased, a percentage will be donated to Kentish Town charity War Child.

by Aline Waites

And, comments from the critics who matter most: the audience

Thought provoking and super interesting play. Wherever humans congregate by choice or circumstance the pecking orders quickly settle into place. The norms of society still hold in extraordinary situations. Capitalism and communism  always side by side, maybe they should befriend each other.

Excellent, and thought provoking. We paticularly enjoyed the performances . . . they were all good. I’ve been pleased that you included the original script in the programme, and have had a quick read through of it today. It has clarified one or two places I had found slightly confusing and realise that they were all the dream sequences (at the time I wasn’t sure if they were ‘real’ or not), and it was interesting to re-read the dialogue but with the stage directions as well.
I will continue to ponder on the issues it raised during news reports from the various refugee camps in the Middle East – not that there are any answers, just questions.

Very strong, well acted, certainly well directed, utterly absorbing and am delighted to have seen it. Super venue too.Liz

A truly memorable evening. The performance lived up to every expectation and more. I thought the acting excellent, the situation and the dialogue completely authentic. I could identify with so many of the comments on both sides. I am not sure how you managed to bring it all together in the space of 90 minutes but somehow you did! I believe Warehouse of Dreams deserves to run for much longer than four weeks.
Richard (He has managed several refugee camps)

It was excellent all round… the writing, the production and the acting. Anyone who has spent any time in refugee camps will have seen something of those characters and of moral dilemmas of that kind.

We were both moved by the acting, it was very powerful. Thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile!

What a super evening… the fascinating thing is that we all came out with different viewpoints and favouring different characters as well as different actors. We were spellbound for the whole ninety minutes and I’m very glad there was no interval.

The character writing is just fantastic.

I was particularly pleased to find Moriarty in the flesh. Superficially a failure, but what an amazing build-up from underneath. Accepting failure as inevitable, and by accepting it, overcoming it. I’ve really enjoyed the play more than I have thoroughly enjoyed anything for ages.
Beatrice (who celebrates her 100th birthday next year)

The play was really wonderful. I was very struck with its power and thought. It was  a hugely moving and strong experience to watch it live and so close and real. I’m engaged in emailing everyone telling them to go quickly and see it.

We so enjoyed it – it was so fascinating and we have talked time and again about it!

It’s still resonating with me. We all really enjoyed it and stayed for quite a while after  sipping some wine discussing the play.

Whow. Wonderfully well done. So much thinking and so many fresh and interesting threads – not something that’s guaranteed every evening. For instance, it hadn’t occurred to me that when you import a mass of refugees like that, you’ll also get (along with the grim bits) their rug-trading mentality as part of the cultural package  – let alone that this import would in fact be a sign of their non-institutionalised vitality. Good stuff.

That’s a great piece of theatre – incredibly poignant and to the point in this dreadful situation we all feel so hopeless about.
Sophie Illustrates yet again just how good the play is. Nationalism is so history – we can only survive by abandoning petty squabbles and working together as a species!

A thought provoking and entertaining play. I thought it was very well acted (once I got used to being that close!) and well produced. It deserves more exposure!