It is probably significant that Boy With A Suitcase skips "The" from its title, shifting focus from "the boy" Naz, a 12-year old war refugee, to the concept of a personal journey towards maturity, with a small load of possessions, both material and psychological.
A joint production of Ranga Shankara and Schnawwl-National Theatre of Germany (called Do I know U?), Boy With A Suitcase is a bildungsroman that follows Naz as he is sent off on a bus by his parents towards the land of "milk and honey". What follows is the kind of arduous adventure Naz’s hero Sindbad could proudly put on his resume: gunfire, wild animal chase, sweatshop, escape, dangerous crossing of water, crawling reach to the destination, disillusionment and eventual acceptance. The lines between fact and fable are fuzzy – we are never quite sure which era or which city we are looking at. And that’s all right – the point is not the place and time but the indomitable spirit of survival.
The play wears its emotions lightly. You’d expect Naz to be devastated at the separation from his parents and his friend Krysia (Simone Oswald), but the young lad takes it all in good humour. Boy With A Suitcase does not also sweat over the minutiae of the journey. The stories that Naz relates are often better fleshed out than the events in his real life. If you go on a logical loophole-finding trip, you will gather a heap. The best way to enjoy Boy With A Suitcase is to play along with it – this work isn’t interested in filling the context with ordinary facts, it would rather fill the context with music. And how well it does that! The musicians aren’t backstage but visible to the audience, often walking around the actors strumming their instruments. You’ll catch yourself wondering what kind of music they will come up with for the next situation. Here is a classic case of using one’s strengths to maximum effect. Naz’s mother (MD Pallavi) has a wonderful singing voice and, while there is no real need to, she treats us to her full-throated rendition of Kesariya Balama. Truly the stuff of gooseflesh.
Two actors play Naz, one as the narrator (David Benito Garcia), the other as the actual boy (Shrunga BV). The narrator is the stronger performer of the two and tides over the more tricky bits in Naz’s role.
The closing note is positive and realistic. The story arc with Krysia, which seemed fated for an abrupt end, is also reconciled on the same note. Naz’s climactic letter to his parents is more honest, more gutsy than the one his elder sibling wrote years ago. With such gains of the journey as courage and wisdom, the empty suitcase does seem worth regrets after all.