“The Jungle” at the Curran tells stories from a real refugee camp in France. (Courtesy Little Fang)

Director shifts smoothly from the palace to ‘The Jungle’

Justin Martin takes on royals, immigrants in recent projects

From London to Calais is less than three hours through the Chunnel, the underwater railway tube between England and France. Australian director Justin Martin has been working literally on sides of the short expanse, but his subjects have been worlds apart.

For several years, Martin has been giving the royals treatment in tony projects such as the first season of the Netflix series “The Crown” and the Tony-winning production of “The Audience” with Helen Mirren portraying HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

Rumor has it “certain members of the family have watched it and enjoyed” the show, he says, adding, “but they’re more… well, we’re quite happy that they pretend to ignore us.”

At the other side of his professional spectrum — directed in collaboration with longtime colleague Stephen Daldry — is the gritty world of refugee camps dramatized in “The Jungle,” now at the Curran.

The play by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson is set in the Calais Jungle, a migrant community that evolved around the entrance to the Chunnel populated by Africans and Kurdish Iraqis wanting to reach England.

Unlike many of the squats of tent clusters that had existed in the area for decades, The Jungle became a self-governing temporary community with electricity, plumbing, food and service for thousands of people.

It also had a community theater, housed in an 11-meter geodesic dome provided by Murphy, Robertson and their Good Chance Theatre. The Joes, who wrote “The Jungle” after living there for seven months, called the camp a place “where people built temporary lives and communities formed out of necessity.”

Martin agrees: “Essentially the camp existed because it was a group of people waiting to get somewhere else. In the context of the waiting and the journey that they had undertaken to get to the camp, they had sort of fallen into a single narrative, which was the narrative of the refugee. In creating the theater, I think the Joes tried to allow the reclaiming of other narratives. That each character is not just the person who’s made that journey, but a person who’s come from a country and has a family and has a story that’s connected to their homeland.”

Some of those stories are being told by the people who actually lived them. “We felt it would have been inauthentic to not invite them to be part of the show,” says Martin, adding, “I think I’ve learned more about other people working on this than any production I’ve ever worked on.“

IF YOU GO

The Jungle

Where: Curran, 445 Geary St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes May 19

Tickets: $25 to $165

Contact: www. sfcurran.com

Theater

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