Flood: To the Sea – bringing refugee stories close to home

Flood is four part production by Slung Low theatre company and playwright James Phillips. Commissioned as part of Hull 2017 City of Culture programme, the third part ‘To The Sea’ was recorded in June for BBC Two’s strand of Performance Live programmes and subsequently broadcast last Saturday evening (and available on iPlayer if you have access until 10 September).

The scene was set with this opening statement from presenter Nihal Arthanyake, standing up on a small boat floating in the city’s Victoria Dock:

“What of the flood myth? Imagine a future where this green and pleasant land was submerged under metres and metres of water after an apocalyptic tsunami. What if the refugees weren’t people from far flung parts of the world but the refugees were you and me?”

The first two parts – performed locally in Hull – told the story of Britain (and presumably Ireland!) submerging under water. It turns the normal Western image of refugees on its head. What if this didn’t happen to other people? In their marketing blurb, Slung Low ask: what if the fleeing masses from our TV screens and Twitter feeds, in their boats and their orange lifejackets, had English accents?

A group of young survivors write a memory poem to keep their story alive and pass on what happened to those who survive after they die. Their poem begins

“What was it like, life after the wave?”

but substitute ‘wave’ for ‘war’ or ‘crop failure’ or ‘persecution’ or ‘camp’ or ‘flood’ or ‘genocide’ and it becomes the story of many more people forced to flee their homes and cross borders to survive.

The production tells an emotional story rather than one packed with facts and dialogue as characters float across the dock, stand on upturned hulls (which has an extra layer of symbolism given the city this work is being performed in) and slip in and out of the cold water. But it well makes the point that story and remembering bring dignity and hope when life is fragile.

One exchange near the end stands out.

      This is home.
      Where is it?
Where? Does it matter? Do you think home is a place? It’s not. It is …
      … a once, a one time, a moment when there was peace.
It is you. It is me.

Clinging on to life and living through the fear; not everyone holds on tight and some let go and slip into the deep watery darkness in scenes that echo real life choices that are not yet written about. Others are pushed away from rescue craft that are already full or ignored by people who will not reach out to help.

These are choices that should not even be options. Choices that governments could do more to change the circumstances that bring them about, or at least to offer safer alternatives of humanitarian corridors and safe passage.