For those who are forced to flee their homeland for a place of safety, the small acts of kindness and generosity they encounter on their journey to a new life can make a huge difference.
It is this theme which is explored in a powerful new play from Phosphorus Theatre. The company, which is a charity that makes work with, for and by young refugees and asylum seekers, is currently on tour with its latest production All The Beds I Have Slept In and it comes to Leeds Playhouse next week.
All the actors in the company have lived experience of forced migration and they have worked together with artistic director Dawn Harrison to develop the script. “We tell stories that our actors want to tell and in the way that they want to tell them,” she says. “Why we do what we do is to elevate refugee stories on to the mainstream stage, to counter and correct the dominant, often negative, media narrative.”
The beds that appear in the play include a bunk in a hostel in Milan, under a bridge in Liverpool Street, on the exercise yard of a Greek detention centre, in a lorry crossing into Italy. They are all anchor points on a longer voyage towards a brighter future.
“The actors wanted to acknowledge the help they had received from people which enabled them to move from one bed to the next,” says Harrison. “They knew that without those acts of kindness their experience would have been much harder and they wanted to pay that forward.”
The play is as much as anything about how to remain connected to humanity and stay hopeful in a frightening world; it’s an expression of gratitude to all the people whose hospitality has shaped the actors’ journeys.
“The response to the show so far has been brilliant,” says Harrison. “Audiences are really connecting with the story. We had a standing ovation last night. We always also invite young refugees and asylum seekers to our shows and we spend time with them before and after. Seeing something like this is validating and transformative for them – they feel heard, seen and listened to; that’s so important.”
He says that he has found it particularly moving and rewarding to perform the piece to audiences of young refugees and asylum seekers. “They see people who have the same situations and experiences as them. They know being an asylum seeker or refugee is not a shame and they are still the same person they were before, just in a different place. I saw lots of young refugee people before the show who were so shy, but afterwards they came to us and started talking and sharing their thoughts and feelings.”
All The Beds I Have Slept In is at Leeds Playhouse, November 16. leedsplayhouse.org.uk