Illegal (3 stars)

This article is from 2019


credit: Alistair Gow

Political two-hander about migrants in the age of Brexit and Trump

Illegal considers the terrifying risks involved in illegal migrant border crossings, as well as the exhausting reality of life in the UK (such as battling the Home Office) for those who have relocated legally. The topic of migration feels like a nuanced way to address the rise of nationalism in Britain without having to actually use the 'B' word, and there's certainly something quite chilling about watching the lead, Jessica, fight deportation as she works countless part-time jobs and tries to build her acting career in Scotland.

Writer and performer Jessica Phillippi and performer Elena Larios present a complex web of female characters who've all shared harrowing experiences with border crossing and relocation. There are two major plotlines, one focusing on a young boyfriend and girlfriend couple from Spain and America (played by the two women) as they fight to settle down in Scotland, and the heavier story of a mother fleeing across the Mexican border to reach American soil by the cover of moonlight.

In the latter, Larios captures well the energy and desperation of a young mother as she risks her life for the benefit of her infant. But this is one of only a few isolated moments of action in Phillippi's script, which is otherwise so thick with plot that it allows little room for action or character introspection. And while Heather Knudtsen's stage design, which is essentially piles of Home Office letters as high as the ceiling, illustrates the daunting task of relocating under Trump and/or Brexit, it leaves both actors largely exposed.

Even though the sum of the parts can't quite live up to the isolated moments of genuine drama, Phillippi's incorporation of the challenges of her own lived experience of relocating to Scotland as a single woman brings the story uncomfortably close to home.

Underbelly Cowgate, until 25 Aug (not 12), noon, £10 (£9).


  • 3 stars

Scandal Theatre and RiotBox Productions An American artist must decide whether to overstay her visa or give up her chance to become a UK citizen. A Guatemalan graduate must decide whether to make the dangerous trek to America. As their parallel stories intertwine, two young women discover how far they’ll go to get what…