Airport Angels

I was delighted to play a small part in the production of Roam, the latest offering from the Grid Iron Theatre Company. The show took place in Edinburgh Airport, with scenes taking place at the check-in desks, baggage reclaim, and even ‘Air Side’ at a departure gate. Our role as AV consultants was to take over the display screens for use in the show, conjuring up high-tech thought-bubbles for the characters.

“Nowhere is the appeal of the airport more concentrated than in the television screens which hang in rows from the terminal ceilings announcingthe departure and arrival of flights and whose absence of aesthetic self-consciousness, whose workman like casing and pedestrian typefaces do nothing to disguise their emotional charge of imaginative allure. Tokyo, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Warsaw, Seattle, Rio.”
Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

The play is a meditation on the process of air travel. It takes in themes of citizenship and national identity, and how different passports mark out fellow humans as either ‘them’ or ‘us’. One entertaining scene stages a revolution in Scotland, with hapless refugees fleeing to the ‘Cathedrals of Hope’ – the airports – to catch planes to the safe havens of Beirut, Kigali, and Sarajevo. While the unfortunate Scots are made to wait and fester, those with Rwandan or Bosnian passports are allowed to pass unhindered.
Seeing scenes from the play several times over, it was interesting to eventually let my eyes wander away from the action, to actual passengers and airport staff, who went about their business as the actors represented them:

“What makes an airport especially curious is that its look-alike settings are the scenes for the most emotional moments… people break down at departure gates, in racking sobs…”
Pico Iyler The Global Soul

It was very bizarre to see such moments of emotion reconstructed by the cast, and then repeated by real travellers, who were often totally unaware that a group of seventy audience members were looking at them. It is actually very easy to be so oblivious: one does not expect a play to be in progress at an airport.
The two quotes above are lifted from director Ben Harrison’s notes in the programme. He also says:

Multi-culture is for me the only way forward. It is an inescapable fact…

In the age of cheap flights and global communications, this is so true. This the notion of multiculturalism needs to be embraced, not rejected, and indeed reclaimed from those who have misdefined it as something wholly negative.
The run has now finished, the actors dispersed back to Beirut, Spain, Holland, via the same airport that they had been performing in for three weeks. I make no apology for not plugging the show before now: It sold out without my help, and received some pretty good reviews.
The show has also been nominated for several critics awards, which is pleasing.

3 Replies to “Airport Angels”

  1. I spend far more time in airports – usually Dubai, Kuwait, or Qatar – than is healthy. I think the last thing on earth I would want to see is a play about an airport, but congratulations on its success nonetheless.

  2. “Racking sobs” touches a nerve with me, as I confess to have been one of those, oblivious to anyone else, breaking down at the departure gate – but surely to see all colours and creeds at any given airport doing the same thing – and let’s not forget the unadulturated joy in Arrivals when those you have nurtured return to the nest for but a short while – makes us realise what we have in common – don’t suppose you saw that scene in “Love Actually” Tim?

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