Amid The Clouds, Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, London <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

At the start of Amid the Clouds, a two-hander by Amir Reza Koohestani, Imour, the 26-year-old male protagonist, is fighting for his life in the river Sava in Bosnia. The boat taking his family and other illegal travellers to Croatia has capsized, leaving him the only survivor. At the end of the piece - at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in Farsi with English surtitles - Imour (Hassan Madjooni) is venturing across the English Channel in a handmade boat, having escaped from a refugee camp in Calais.

In between, the play charts his unsentimental, but touching relationship with another migrant, known as The Girl (Shiva Fallahi) whom he encounters while working in a bar near the Croatian-Slovenian frontier. She is pregnant and alone, and needs someone to cross the border with her to deflect gossip and suspicion. Imour finds himself carrying the girl across the mountainous terrain.

Amid the Clouds feelingly records the tribulations faced by asylum-seekers - from the untrustworthiness of smugglers to the insensitive treatment at refugee camps. While it has a political edge, it is not a full-on issue piece like Kay Adshead's The Bogus Woman or Timberlake Wertenbaker's Credible Witness. And its mode is far from documentary realism.

Instead, in a poetically heightened narrative style, it tells a story that fuses contemporary reality and psychological myth.

Fallahi's sad, beautiful Girl and Madjooni's glum, undemonstrative Imour conjure up a haunting sense of the deep loneliness of these two individuals who have suffered complementary fates. His mother was shunned and driven to suicide for claiming she has been made pregnant by the waters of the river Ghara Ghaj. The Girl believes her baby was immaculately conceived as a gift from God while she was visiting a holy shrine. Will Imour be able to exorcise his fixation with his dead mother by acceding to the Girl's plea that, before he leaves for Calais, he gives her a baby to replace the one she has cruelly lost? There are times when the piece threatens to fall between two stools, but objections are swept aside by the absorbing, unforced dignity of its presentation.