London Stories: Made by Migrants at Battersea Arts Centre
Some theatre is intended as escapism. This is not that kind. London Stories: Made by Migrants is a promenade piece that connects audiences with real migrants and their true stories. It is confronting, relevant and deeply affecting.
The BAC, cherished arts hub and one-time town hall, only recently ravaged by fire, provides the setting. Small groups of theatregoers are led around, entering newly refurbished spaces that no other patrons have yet seen. Their path includes narrow stairwells, loft passageways and the moonlit roof of the building.
Jade, originally from Lira, Uganda, talks of tyrant Idi Amin’s rule there, and how the mundanities of her everyday life in Clapham make her glad to be alive. Maryam, an artist conceived in Tehran and born in Birmingham, talks of her two identities, which are spread over two continents. Eiad is a refugee, the kind everyone has heard of: a Syrian who, after his visa applications were rejected multiple times, paid smugglers to take him across the sea in a rickety boat to claim asylum in Europe.
The setting is always intimate: a ring of chairs, sometimes a bed. White neon tubes resting in the corner of a room provide stark lighting. Jade, sat in front of one such light, is little more than a silhouette before her listeners. Some of the tales depict staggering horror, but almost all are told with humour and warmth.
Fact cards are handed out between talks, a way of zooming out of the personal and painting broader strokes of the topic. These document statistics from the 16th Century onward, reminding viewers that immigration is nothing new, that, moreover, it has shaped our city. The cards are intended for audiences to hand to friends or to leave on public transport in an attempt to inform the national conversation.
London Stories is a living museum, a snapshot of history. Its first incarnation was in 2013; this year’s run coincides with Donald Trump being named the 45th president of the United States. The collection of stories is the perfect antidote to all this talk of building walls to keep immigrants out.
Photo: Joyce Nicholls
London Stories: Made by Migrants is at Battersea Arts Centre from 4th until 26th November 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for London Stories: Made by Migrants here: