Clients of Freedom from Torture will bring their stories to audiences for acclaimed play, The Jungle, when it transfers to the West End in July. They won’t be on the stage but their voices and stories can be accessed via audio and video recordings installed in the theatre.
The clients are members of the Write to Life Group whose journey to rehabilitation includes creative writing and performance as well as other kinds of activism. They recorded their experiences to help bring their stories to a wider audience and aid understanding of what is really involved in finding a safe home in the UK.
The audio recordings techniques was previously used to accompany the play The Claim, by Tim Cowbury, and directed by Mark Maughan, which toured theatres earlier this year. Clients spoke with the playwright and director about their experiences. This helped to shape the narrative, which depicted a bizarre asylum interview between a refugee, his case owner and an interpreter, more interested in responding to each other than in listening to the refugee’s story. It is a tale of misunderstandings, often wilful ones, and underlines the perils of translation and the importance of listening.
The play is set in the former “jungle” refugee camp at Calais, gathering point for refugees and migrants who aim to make a new life in the UK. The play tells stories of the camp and its eventual destruction by French authorities.
Write to Life co-ordinator Sheila Hayman says of The Claim:
"The asylum interview is an experience nobody would want to endure. It was hard persuading our group members, all torture survivors, to revisit it for the audio recordings which recall their personal experiences. A male interviewer, for example, repeatedly asking a female survivor how often she was raped, and by how many men, or a translator repeatedly translating “I was not drunk” as “I was drunk”, are not things that should happen in a civilised society."
This time the clients were not involved in the creative development of The Jungle but there is no doubt that it reflects at least some of their own experiences. The play is set in the former “jungle” refugee camp at Calais, gathering point for refugees and migrants who aim to make a new life in the UK. The play tells stories of the camp and its eventual destruction by French authorities.
For the audience, the play is an immersive experience with some of the audience sitting on benches in the Afghan café, centre of camp life, and others (in the circle) observing the scene from the White Cliffs of Dover, across the channel. The play was a sell-out in its earlier staging at the Young Vic and will no doubt do even better at The Playhouse, where it previews from 16 June with an opening night on 5 July.
The perennial challenge for producers of theatre works as moving and engaging as this is to harness the emotion and energy stirred up in the audience by the performance. In the case of both The Claim and The Jungle, the producers wanted their audiences to understand the reality of what they had just seen depicted on stage, and then to have a way to act on it.
Through this link to Freedom from Torture and its work, they will be able to do this, and with luck make a real and lasting change so that future asylum seekers will be spared the horrors depicted in the plays.
Lost and Found, an earlier production by Write to Life, will be performed in a new version at the Victoria and Albert Museum on the afternoon of Sunday 17 June, as part of Refugee Week celebrations. All performance are free. See here for more information on time and place of performances.
Further information and tickets to The Jungle.
For more information on Write to Life click here.