Taking detention drama straight to the heart of Parliament

This blog post was written for Unlocking Detention by John Tomlinson of Strawberry Blond Curls Theatre Company, (@SBC_Theatre) who performed their play ‘Tanja’ at this week’s Sanctuary in Parliament event.

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We, Strawberry Blonde Curls Theatre Company, are John Tomlinson (that’s me) and Rosie MacPherson. We’ve been working together for about five years now. I’m a producer and Rosie is a brilliant writer and award-winning actor. We’re a company that are always going to make important political work that comes from real stories and take them around the country to raise awareness and start conversations.

We had a once in a lifetime opportunity to take our political drama straight to the heart of Parliament this week…we performed ‘Tanja,’ our play about immigration detention for ‘Sanctuary in Parliament’, an event organised by the City of Sanctuary movement to tell MPs about their work in welcoming asylum seekers and refugees.  This year it coincided with the Report Stage of the 2015 Immigration Bill, so MPs were able to go straight from seeing our play to the debate on the floor of the House…

We couldn’t quite believe it either but, for a short time, we had the undivided (we hope) attention of the room, which was full of MPs and key figures explaining to them what the refugee crisis really looks like and how they can change hundreds of people’s lives. It’s the most important thing we’ve ever been involved in, so we did everything we could  to make sure we engaged, enlightened and educate people through theatre and storytelling.

How did we get to this? Well, we’ve always created political theatre. The work we make has always been in response to what we see in the world and how we can put it right, together, little by little. Opening up conversations is why we make theatre and they’re mostly hard-hitting dramas. We’ve been lucky to have lots of companies, venues, partners and funders who support what we do. This one is much the same, but it’s never been so real.

‘Tanja’ is a drama about a woman. She’s an individual and she stands for and represents a whole load of women who have, and continue to, suffer.

Set in her room at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, this is her story, her life, her love of culture and music, her (despite everything) love of England and its quirky eccentricities, and the abuse she has suffered in her quest for refuge.

When we, including the brilliant Hannah Butterfield who we’re making the show with, took to that committee room on Tuesday, we did it because we think we can make a difference, no matter how small. We hope you tell someone about what’s going on at Yarl’s Wood and we hope you research more about the women in there and tell your MP why it’s so important.

Theatre is reactive in its nature. This one has a good chance to actually make a change. We’ve got a massive opportunity and we’re grateful, but we won’t rest until this is settled. We’ll make, rehearse, tour, talk and shout about it for a long time. We work in an industry of make believe, but not this – this is now, this is real. Let’s challenge the injustices experienced by women who seek asylum in the UK.

Tuesday was the most important day of my life. I’ve never felt such compassion and a connection with amazing people who are fighting for justice. We all feel empowered and were overwhelmed with the response to our piece. It feels like we have the blessing of those people, many of which have suffered first hand, to go and tell the stories to everyone, whether it be in a theatre or in the street. We’re part of this movement, whole heartedly.

Thanks for reading, now over to you to tell someone else.

 

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