An eye-opening performance: life for refugees is ‘Not That Easy’

Emilia Andrews reviews ‘Not That Easy’: an eye-opening play on the refugee crisis by the University of Bristol’s DramSoc.

On Friday 23rd March, in the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, using only two large white sheets and six cast members dressed in black, the University of Bristol’s DramSoc staged the final night of their eye-opening play on the refugee crisis. Despite the difficult task of taking on such a delicate subject, the cast and crew who were directed by second year English student, Jasmine Silk, managed to create a sensitively handled performance with a powerfully conveyed message about the dark reality of life as a refugee.

The play began with several overlapping audio clips of the news reporting on the refugee crisis, as the shadow of each cast member gradually came into view behind the sheet, with their heads down. During this moment, the audience were left to listen and absorb the magnitude of the very real refugee crisis, before two members of the cast stepped into view and began speaking directly to the audience, bringing the vast nature of the crisis down to a more personal level. A rotation of cast members throughout the performance meant that there were only two people on stage at any one time, with the remainder of the cast moving as shadows behind the sheet, in accompaniment with the stories being told. This simple yet effective routine enabled the audience’s focus to remain on the telling of the play’s two stories, one of a woman named Mary from Iran and one of a man called Rep from Sudan, both of whom had suffered great hardships in the lead up to, and the events following, them fleeing their countries and becoming asylum seekers.

As Mary told her devastating tale involving the death of both of her parents, her husband and several instances of domestic abuse in her next marriage, the audience was left feeling as though surely nothing worse could happen to her. Yet, following an affair with a man she fell in love with during her abusive marriage, she found herself having to flee her home country in a bid to protect her own life. Being from a country where adultery, though socially frowned upon, is not an offence punishable by death, makes Mary’s fate almost incomprehensible to us. However, circumstances such as these are evidentially the harsh reality for many of those who are forced to flee from their home countries, leaving their families behind – a decision which is not taken lightly, but is well and truly a last resort.

“For me, too many bad things had happened, so I said to myself, life must go on”.

The theme of religion played a significant role in the play, being depicted as a salvation from the horrors of Rep and Mary’s lives. When the reality of their lives was displacement, fear and death, it is no wonder that Rep and Mary felt the need to reach for something beyond the human experience. As he relayed the details of his terrifying journey hiding above the wheels of a moving lorry, Rep told the audience, ‘I reached for my Quran to protect me. In times like these, you need to feel close to God.’ Religion is also where Mary found sanctuary, converting to Christianity after moving to the UK and attributing her eventual good fortune to God’s protection.

This reliance on religion for protection, along with the few and far between instances of support and friendship from fellow human beings, highlighted how much more we can all do to support refugees. The lack of information available for refugees seeking asylum was made clear in the play, as Rep remarked, ‘I didn’t realise you could seek asylum in another country’. The details of ongoing legal processes, constantly being moved around the country, and receiving numerous rejections from the Home Office alerted the audience to how difficult life can be for these desperate people, who are in need of support and stability but are instead made to feel unwelcome and discarded.

Between each segment of anecdotes from Mary and Rep were more audio clips which created a harsh contrast between the public discussions surrounding the refugee crisis, and the private reality of the lives of individual refugees. One particularly ironic moment was hearing the words ‘this country is one of extraordinary compassion’ come out of David Cameron’s mouth, moments before Mary’s character told us that after being treated like a criminal for being a refugee in the UK, she was ‘experimented on like a mouse in a laboratory’ during medical treatment. Somehow, the ‘extraordinary compassion’ prevalent in Cameron’s version of this country doesn’t appear to extend to instances such as this one.

“I am not a criminal, I am a human.”

Most heart-breaking of all is the disconcerting fact that the stories which ‘Not That Easy’ included are not unique. The play successfully presented the audience with powerful messages about the state of humanity, ending on the most important one of all – a call for us to do more: to love more, to accept more, to listen more to those who have suffered from such events which are unimaginable to us. For those of us who are more fortunate than the numerous refugees who have stories similar to Rep and Mary’s, our support, no matter how big or small can change lives. ‘Not That Easy’ was put on in collaboration with Bristol City of Sanctuary, an organisation which aims to provide refugees which the much-needed support which is so wrongly absent from the experiences of people like Rep and Mary’s characters. If you would like to get involved with supporting the cause then you can visit their page at https://bristol.cityofsanctuary.org/

“Use your voice and do what you can to help.”

Image Courtesy of UoB DramSoc.

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