“We’re privileged to welcome you here”
Something a bit different for a Sunday but definitely worthwhile, Refugees Welcome saw a curated collection of performances exploring the themes of displacement, exodus and the humanitarian disaster of the refugee crisis through the medium of theatre, comedy and poetry. Organised by David Mercatali in support of Calais Action and all their advocacy work as well as aid support for displaced people in camps and hotspots across Europe, it proved a powerful programme of thought-provoking work.
For me, it was most fascinating to how consider how theatre in particular responds to contemporary crises, the speed of response somewhat limited by form, the nature of response dictated by swift-changing news agendas. So the excerpt from Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play Lampedusa, performed by Louise Mai Newberry and the playwright, felt horribly like last year’s news because we’re not being still confronted with the images of overcrowded boats crossing the Med. But the snippet of Tess Berry-Hart’s Cargo, soon to be seen at the Arcola, reminded us that this is not a problem that is going away, and that (certain) theatres are not shying away from.
We also got to see some short plays with intriguingly different takes on the subject, though three of the four were essentially monologues for women – Reversal by Timberlake Wertenbaker given bruising, guilt-ridden weight by Monica Dolan, Maqluba by Mediah Ahmed combining Palestinian recipes and recriminations in Sirine Saba’s reproachful performance and Photograph by Philip Ridley offering up a blistering tale of a mother’s grief, delivered with exceptional restraint by Amanda Daniels, Strong as they were, one hopes that this isn’t the only time they see the light of day, that their messages will live on somehow.
Readings of poetry by refugees were sensitively done by Daniel York, Adam Riches and Russell Tovey, Philip Ridley gave us two wildly different but equally idiosyncratic readings of his own verse (the brilliantly caustic Sparkling Cannibals and I Will), Robin Ince (a comic new to me) nailed so much about so much in a cracking quarter of an hour that eviscerated anyone who has been a dick on Twitter or picked up a copy of the Metro amongst other things. But the highlight was a Q&A session with Ahmad Al-Rashid, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, who spoke with an eloquence and clarity that puts us all to shame, giving the whole afternoon the kind of uncompromising directness that really focused the accompanying artistic contributions.