The Container, Young Vic, London

3.00

The earnestness of being imported

Is there a more uncomfortable theatrical experience to be had at the moment than watching The Container? Suddenly the cramped seats, claustrophobic foyers and endless queues of the West End's creakier theatres seem positively luxurious.

In keeping with the current trend for all things site-specific and immersive – not least in the Young Vic's last production, the thrilling Kursk, which plunged audiences into a murky world of sonar beeps and submariners in a radically-transformed Maria studio – The Container takes place within the tinny, stuffy confines of a container lorry.

Clare Bayley's play about immigrants smuggling themselves into the UK was the word-of-mouth hit of the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007. Now the co-production with Amnesty International has pitched up in London in the form of a rusty, dull-blue metal box parked outside the Young Vic. Before the play starts, audience members are divested of heavy coats and bulky bags and handed a small bottle of water before being shepherded, in a compliant crocodile, on to The Cut. Lined up outside the "venue", we are instructed to sit on the wooden pallets, tuck in our feet and – if it all gets a bit much – "just bang on the door and someone will let you out". The airless lorry seats only 28, lined up like anxious, lightly roasted sardines against unyielding, bumpy walls. The door bangs shut behind the last. A bolt slides across.

The first few minutes are truly horrifying. In pitch darkness, the silence is broken only by the insistent, nausea-making vibrating sounds of a lorry in motion. After what feels like an eternity, the noise stops and a flashlight shines out of the black. Torches are the only lighting used in Tom Wright's production, often shining directly into the eyes of the audience as the action unfolds in a narrow, dusty strip down the middle of the container. It's all hugely uncomfortable – which is the point, of course.

Bayley's play puts us firmly and unforgivingly in the same position as her characters – human cargo on the run from private and political traumas in their homelands of Afghanistan, Somalia and Turkey. All harbour hopes – some vain (a job serving the Queen in Buckingham Palace), others humble (to see a wife and child once more) – of a better life and a new start in an idealised Great Britain.

All five have their own plans, their own secrets and their own strategies for maintaining their dignity in the most crushingly, squalidly undignified of circumstances as they scrap over scraps of food, jealously guard their few valuables and lie to one another. We hear them vomiting and defecating in the darkness though, fortunately, the only smell we experience is the acrid stench of their desperation. When the shadowy "Agent" (a bulging-eyed Chris Spyrides) who has stowed them in the lorry, arrives with supplies, his weaselly demands for more money reveal the lengths each will go to in order to reach their goal.

The performances are necessarily intense. In particular, Doreene Blackstock as Fatima, the Somali matriarch of the truck, sparks nicely off Abhin Galeya's laconic, mysterious Jemal. Bayley's script feels a little underwritten, though, too abruptly concluded and too quick to leap on vague narrative hooks of scrapes with the Taliban and unspecified refugee camps at the expense of any real depth of characterisation.

As a striking crystallisation of the migrant experience, The Container is memorable and vital. But it's the suffocating, blindly-ignorant darkness of those first few minutes, over and above any words or performances, which stays with you long after you step out, blinking and thoroughly relieved, on to the street.

To 30 July (020 7922 2922; www.youngvic.org )

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?

An enlightening finale for Don Draper

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Serious player: Aussie Guy Sebastian rehearses for the big show in Vienna

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable