Refugees beat visa issues and lack of funds to stage ‘funny' play about the crisis

Journey from the Jungle to a place to call home

Friday, 1st September 2017 — By Chloe Livadeas


IT’S difficult to see the funny side of the refugee crisis, but a production due to be staged at The Cockpit theatre for one night only appears to have pulled it off.

Borderline, about the Calais Jungle, is performed by a troupe of seven refugees who lived there. Its cast has been coming and going, sleeping on people’s floors and struggling to find a place to call home. Together they explore the journey of refugees from a new angle: laughter.

The show’s director, Sophie Besse, who runs the theatre company PSYCHEdelight which combines drama and therapy, visited the camp on a number of occasions and was struck by how much humour was among its residents. She said she did not want to put on “another tragedy”, adding: “We hear a lot about the negative aspects of refugees but we never hear about positive things and how resilient, strong-minded and humorous they are.”

The show has a very physical, clownish style so the cast who are from Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine and Sudan, as well as across Europe, can express themselves fully despite the language barrier.

Ms Besse said the play’s funny side “keeps them going. They need a relief of tension.”

Dave Wybrow, artistic director at The Cockpit, said the show was an amazing achievement and despite visa issues, lack of funds and performance space had happened “completely against the odds”. It arrived in Westminster as a two-night show last September as part of Voila, the theatre’s French season. After a series of sell-out UK shows, it has recently embarked on a European tour.

Mr Wybrow said: “The performance gives off a powerful sense of common humanity. It really rehumanises the refugee debate when you see it. We’re so used to seeing people through numbers and places.”

The performance also aims to expand the cast’s network and help with integration – one of the reasons why it is a mix of refugees and European performers.

Performer Mohamed Sarrar, who came to the UK last year from Sudan, said he’d met some really good people through the play and was very excited to get back on stage. Before Borderline he had not had much acting experience.

Ms Besse said the show had created a new community: “They actually miss Calais. They arrive in the UK and feel terrible isolated, so to be able to part of a group again is important.” Borderline will be shown at The Cockpit theatre Gateforth Street, Marylebone, on Thursday September 28.

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