Voices in the Dark: From Across the Globe at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
The British Red Cross Young Refugee Service have run weekly sessions for migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the UK last year, welcoming young people to find cultural spaces in new communities. Compass Collective have experience assisting in over 50 refugee centres across Europe and the Middle East, focusing on bringing people together in London, allowing them to share stories and build communities.
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse hosts young men from as far as Eritrea, Northern Iraq, Afghanistan and more. Passing a whiteboard taking contributions from the audience writing news headlines, the youths chat and laugh on stage. An Afghan teenager searches the space with a torch, though it is unclear why; perhaps mirroring officials who send migrants back. He dreams of a little girl – in the form of a newspaper puppet – to whom he says, “I assume you’re the only one listening to me.” The next scene produces laughter when a stash of newspapers are thrown dramatically downstairs, and the actor exclaims, “you got my story wrong. I don’t want to do this anymore.” The story is a little indefinable, but it seems that the production attempts to highlight issues where some publications paint refugees in a negative light. Another participant in the show repeats the lines, showing that these events occur frequently. The scenes which follow are a bit arbitrary, and there isn’t much of a storyline, but what stands out is the cast’s ability to show optimism through their hardships. One such account comes from an Iranian who, when lost in the jungles on the way to Greece, had to resort to eating grass and drinking water with animals. The government didn’t care, letting him sleep on the streets, where he was beaten by fascists who broke his fingers. Another individual travelled through six different countries, finally reaching England. It is harrowing stories like these that really put things into perspective.
The young men play music; songs are sung in Kurdish, Farsi, and French from Guinea Conakry. Some of the rap lyrics are lost in the din; as these aren’t professional actors a microphone would be a good idea. After some dance-offs and a lovely playing of the xylophone, certificates are handed out, though it’s vague what the cast are being recognised for.
The group devised their own show, inspired by Shakespeare’s explorations of home and displacement. Due to its amateur quality it isn’t highly engaging, lacking a definitive story, but the group should be congratulated on their courage facing an audience in a strange new country and showcasing some of their impressive musical skills, something that would frighten most people.
Voices in the Dark: From Across the Globe was at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on 22nd June 2019 as part of Refugee Week 2019.