Theater Review: Burning Coal’s Compelling, Site-Specific Production of ‘The Container’ Spotlights Realness of the Refugee Crisis

There is something mystifying about voluntarily stepping into a shipping container roughly half the size of a single-wide trailer to watch a one-act play. But what feels a bit experimental, garish, or even gimmicky at first, turns out to be the key element that makes Burning Coal’s production of Clare Bayley’s play The Container work.

To clarify, there is a shipping container 8.5 feet wide by 40 feet long parked in front of the Contemporary Art Museum near Downtown Raleigh. A small audience is seated inside the container perched on wooden crates as the actors move about the aisle, which isn’t more than about 4 feet wide.  Piped in sounds, along with street noise, echo through the metal chamber. The sounds, lighting, and close proximity of the actors to the audience ratchet up the emotional intensity of Bayley’s refugee story, even more so than the words written on the page.

The Container premiered at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2007. But Bayley’s account of five refugees traveling via “the container” to seek asylum in England feels even more timely now, over a decade later. Perhaps that is because her characters represent a variety of backgrounds and countries and their stories personalize an ongoing humanitarian crisis. There are two Somali women, played in this production by Cheleen Sugar and Lakeisha Coffey, an Afghan widow, and businessman, played by Rimsha Afazal and Holden Hansen respectively, and a young Kurdish man, portrayed by Darius Shafa.

Director Avis Hatcher Puzzo has done a fine job in blocking and pacing the piece to ensure it is well balanced. This is an ensemble piece in every sense of the word, and although each actor is fully invested, no one performance or story is distinguishable from any other, which is exactly the way it is supposed to be. In fact, the only “star” in this production, is the container in which we are all sitting, a stunning reminder of the play’s relevance and realness.

As a standalone script, The Container has its shortfalls. However, the whole of this production, a strong ensemble cast, a laser-focused director, and one metal box, makes this one of the most compelling and interesting theatrical experiences to come along (in this area) in a long time.

Burning Coal Theatre Company’s production of The Container runs through October 27th. All performances are sold-out, however, you can call (919) 834-4001 to be put on a waitlist. For more information visit:

For a complete performance schedule, visit the RDU on Stage Calendar Page.

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