By Niki Campbell, Content Manager @ Stagedoor.
“You’re a good dog, yes you are…yes you are…yes, shall we go and find those smelly refugees?” says the actor to the other actor; the one who’s jumping up and down wagging his imaginary tail and barking with delight.
I’m laughing. I’m coughing. I’m silent.
They’re rehearsing for ‘Borderline’ by PSYCHEdelight. A comedy about the refugee crisis and the Calais jungle, devised and performed by a company of refugees and european actors, collectively speaking 7 different languages.
I’m silenced by a mixture of embarrassment and guilt; how can I laugh when people not so far away are living and sleeping in mud and sand and shit? People in the room have lost family and friends, have fled from countries destroyed by war.
I’m busy indulging in the romance and tragedy of it all when I realise that other people are laughing too. In fact everybody is laughing; Syrians, Sudanese, French, English, Chilean, Welsh…
As Lujza Richter (actor and co-producer for the project) rightly asserts,
‘The situation is absurd!’
She argues that for those living in the camp, in this absurdity, ‘At a certain point, you can’t do anything but laugh.’
We reach this point in our conversation but not before a lengthy discussion about the endless list of obstacles and barriers that some members of this company have faced to get to this rehearsal room.
Richter came together with director Sophie NL Besse and a number of the European company while volunteering in Calais; providing workshops in theatre, clowning, art and crafts.
Embracing the chaos and working through language barriers, culture clashes and minimal funds; they found, as many have, that there is a universal language in comedy. There is humanity in the shared understanding of a joke and a therapeutic element in finding laughter amongst the pain.
‘We are using comedy but it’s a device, it’s a tool,’ she says:
‘Theatre has that power of disguising really strong messages political and human; messages in entertainment. This is why I do theatre, why I’ve always wanted to do theatre.’
The ‘refugee story’ is everywhere. We watch footage of war torn cities in the Middle East, read articles about trouble and violence and poverty, share devastating images of children, petition our governments to welcome and support the vulnerable. And we must; awareness is key.
But what next? People are accustomed to the horror stories, but what about the humanity, the interesting mix of cultures, the song and dance, the humour and the personalities of individual refugees. How can we get to know these people and welcome them into our communities?
Richter sympathises, ‘The sadness and the tragedy can be alienating. You can understand but you cannot possibly relate’. And I am forced to admit my own prejudice.
I entered this space worrying about how I should speak to some of these people, who have experienced a world I can’t even imagine. My assumption was that they would be so different to me that we would struggle to communicate. Then we laugh together and suddenly the world feels a lot smaller. We have a shared experience.
This understanding is a major part of the project.
The company, who have created work through play, music, clowning, storytelling and improvising, hope to tour with the production to areas across the country where refugees have been taken in. But also to facilitate refugee-led workshops for the purpose of expression, integration and awareness.
Richter jokes ‘The show could as well be called Let’s Meet.’ She believes ‘What could make a massive difference is citizens, individuals taking responsibility, spreading awareness. The government will not, they never have.’
‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’ — Martin Luther King, Jr
There are mixed feelings in the refugee company: some are taking part for experience, some for fun, some for social reasons, others as a duty to those back home and in Calais. But one thing is clear, there is an strong bond here and they have some incredible talents and stories to share.
‘For me, being part of borderline means that I found a family and a home here in the UK. I see them everyday and we eat together and we laugh together.’ — Móhaméd Śárràr, company member.
The intimacy is beautiful to watch and the comedy is fresh and full of heart.
I look forward to seeing the show!
The show has been co-produced by The Cockpit as part of VOILA! Festival.
Follow The Cockpit & PSYCHEdelight on Stagedoor
Get notified when they have new shows, book tickets, browse reviews, and discover something new.
Stagedoor app helps you discover great shows and get personalised recommendations. Find theatre shows you want to see. Save them on Stagedoor and you’ll get notified when they close, so you never miss out.