"What happened to me, the marks on my body, the memories, they are going to be my souvenirs. I want to show people how I feel. In my struggle I did not have a voice and I want the world to know the truth. Talking, acting, writing about it: it's another way to free myself."
Tracy, member of Write to Life since 2008 and Souvenirs performer
If you would like to organise a performance of 'Souvenirs', perhaps in conjunction with a local arts festival, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Write to Life, Freedom from Torture's creative writing group, have a reputation for producing engaging and innovative material which sheds a light on the disturbing reality many survivors of torture face in UK.
During Refugee Week (2011), they performed their poetry at Survivor!, a musical celebration at All Hallows Gospel Oak in north London. In 2012, they performed works at the Tate Britain, inspired by the paintings they found there, and worked with musicians from the Nonclassical collective to put their pieces to music. In 2013, their output has been dominated by the gestation and delivery of 'Souvenirs', the group's first piece of verbatim theatre.
Souvenirs represents a three-way collaboration between Write to Life, ice&fire, a theatre company who explore human rights through performance, and Tamasha Theatre, who specialise in intercultural practice.
The project sought to provide Write to Life participants with opportunities to develop their writing and performing skills, and to use theatre as a tool to explore and give voice to the complex issues faced by refugees, asylum seekers, torture survivors and other vulnerable migrants.
But unlike other verbatim theatre pieces, where the actual words of real people are spoken by actors, 'Souvenirs' requires the actors to tell their own stories – and in doing so, to dig deep into painful memories, and revisit places and times they would rather have forgotten. The process, documented below by filmmaker Isabella de Rosario, proved both extremely challenging and extremely powerful.
The resulting 20-minute piece bears full testimony to this, with shows at the Bath Literature Festival and Jackson's Lane Theatre closing to stunned silences, followed by rapturous applause.
Reflecting on the show in Bath in a blog for the Independent newspaper, Write to Life member Hasani, wrote:
"When the door opened and we walked in and onto the stage, I was amazed at the numbers in the room. Looking at the festival programme, I had seen some very famous names; surely people who signed up for JK Rowling wouldn't be interested in us? And yet, every seat was filled, with people of all sorts and ages...by the time the play finished, more than half of the audience was in tears. And yet, ironically, although it demanded great courage to share our stories with strangers on a public stage, what I felt afterwards was relief."
At the Jackson Lane performance, the audience rose in a sweeping standing ovation and there was much heartfelt congratulatory hand-wringing immediately afterwards. One audience member wrote to us personally to share her thoughts on the show:
"Souvenirs burned itself on my soul last night. Not in any way bleak or sympathy stealing it felt like a true human connection between audience and performers. This is one of the most important things I've seen a theatre do. I wish all theatres gave you 20 minutes to allow Jade, Mohammed, Tracy, Uganda and Hasani, and others like them, to take the stage and share that part of their lives with us. I thank them for their strength and because I feel somehow like I'd been given a gift, it opened my eyes. I thought they were already as open as they could be, I was wrong! I applaud all those involved in projects such as this & I hope the future holds bright things for all".