An introduction to Sorry We Didn't Die at Sea
by writer Daniel Emery
Some political plays set out to reflect the world, and some refract it.
Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea doesn’t reflect the experiences of the many thousands of migrants who are today making perilous sea crossings into Europe each year. That isn’t something Emanuele Aldrovandi has direct experience of, and it wouldn’t be the right story for this group of people to tell. But in setting out to tell the story of four Europeans fleeing the continent, in an imagined future where the continent has collapsed, we are launching ourselves into the fraught politics of Europe’s migration crisis and our complicity in its perpetuation.
Our lives are bounded by the threat of violence. Despite popular imagination, Western liberal states have not moved past the problem of societal violence. One of the ways it still rears its head is in its appearance at our jealously-guarded borders, which have become crossing zones of death.
Italy - where this play was written and first staged - has in common with the UK that our stories of irregular migration are dominated by the imaginarium of the sea. And we share governments prepared to turn sea crossings into contested political sites, over and above humanitarian concerns. This is the truth into which Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea launches. It has only gained in resonance in the seven years since its writing: the Mediterranean crisis has become an annual event, and we see hauntingly similar dynamics in the English Channel. Our governments’ hostility towards migration directly shapes the suffering of those trying to reach our countries.
If Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea has a political aim, it is to attack on the myopic understanding of the migrant crisis as happening fleetingly at the edge of Europe. The play invites moral questioning from its audience, setting us at an uncertain distance from the action and refusing to allow us to become passive spectators. If this production succeeds, the first response it should receive from its audience is an emotional one. The moral ambivalence of an instinctive response to events happening in the same room as an audience is where theatre can elicit social engagement from its spectators. That doesn’t come from the reflection of social attitudes most audience members will already share.
Most of us will gladly express outrage at the humanitarian catastrophes occuring daily in Europe’s seas. More difficult to answer is what it is that allows us to feel so disconnected from those catastrophes, which occur frequently just a few miles from our coastlines. Ultimately, the sore on which Sorry We Didn't Die at Sea presses is its audience's own indifference.
Daniel Emery's producton of Sorry We Didn't Die at Sea plays in Park90 from 13 September, find out more here.
Gain more insights from the creative team at the post-show Q&A on Thu 21 Sep (free to same-day ticket holders).
Rehearsal photos by Pamela Raith.