Refugee play in running for Edinburgh awards

A new verbatim play based on the experiences of an Eritrean refugee has been shortlisted for awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Still Here is based on an interview conducted in the Calais Jungle in December last year, and documents the journey of a man fleeing persecution for his faith (played by Afolabi Alli) along with the reflections of the British woman who interviewed him.

The play was sponsored by the Church of England and performed in The Tent, a site-specific space erected in the South Lawn of St Mary’s Cathedral.

Still Here was written by Theatre for Justice’s artistic director Rachel Partington, a second year student at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School who also performs in play.

The work has been shortlisted by National Student Drama Festival (Edinburgh Award 2016) and Amnesty International (Freedom of Expression Award 2016). The results will be announced at the conclusion of the Fringe Festival next week.

The Anglican Communion’s News Service reports the comments of Rev Arun Arora, the Church of England’s director for communications:

“It is a privilege to sponsor and support a play that deals so powerfully and skilfully with one man’s journey of faith and flight. We share with Rachel a responsibility to speak up for the poor and the marginalised – for people of all faiths and none – and this play is a powerful and creative away of doing just that.”

In June, Rachel wrote her visit to the Calais Jungle:

“Five of us went to distribute supplies, discover the need and document the journey. There we met with a few of the unsung heroes – refugees who led a church in the camp. Through the mud and the rain, through the desperate conditions – inhabitants inhaling toxic fumes from burning plastic as they attempted to heat food – such a generous spirit shone, as they shared with us what they had, making us tea and giving up their seats.

“We met an Eritrean man there who told us his story. The story of how he walked for nine days to leave his country, travelling through sweeping desert and over the Mediterranean Sea to seek refuge. How the churches in his country were shut down, worshipping Jesus was declared illegal and his mother and sister were imprisoned for their faith. How as he got down on his knees and prayed, he saw holy fire flying through the air all around him. And how even in his darkest hours God had never left his side.

Still Here is hugely topical, and still as relevant now as it was when I first started writing it. The situation is relentless for all who are stranded in camps across the globe and whom we label ‘refugees’ and ‘migrants’. To have all we hold dear ripped from underneath us by war and persecution is something that thankfully, we do not experience here.

“We are incredibly blessed to have our freedom in the UK – freedom of belief, freedom of speech, and cultural diversity – and to have so many resources at our disposal, but unfortunately our brothers and sisters worldwide are not in the same position. It is my hope that in retelling this story we can help bring about the change needed to help alleviate the situation.”

She adds:

“We hope that the Fringe will open doors to take the piece beyond, where it has the potential to move the hearts of those in power to further action.”

Video/photo: Theatre for Justice / Bristol Old Vic Theatre School