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 Neo-classical 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.
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.
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.