Friday, 27 March 2009

Some things you wish you didn't know

Last night I went to see Fugee at my old drama school The Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama. It was very special for me because the production was put on by Dramaworks, the evening and weekend drama programme for children and adults and that is headed up by Eona Craig. Eona was in my class at drama school. There were only 20 of us and it was an intensive course to say the least so we all got to know each other pretty well. But I've not seen her for 22 years!! So it was fantastic to meet her, share a few memories (and in jokes) and see how well she's doing with her life which brings me onto the actual production.

First thing to say is that it is a stunning production. The young actors were incredibly good and as a former drama student (and therefore the world's expert on these matters of course) I can be a very harsh critic. Nothing to criticise last night - it was all very impressive stuff. The writing, direction, acting, lighting, costumes, I just can't praise it highly enough.

But it is the story they told that had the greatest effect on me last night. It's hard to describe how deeply moving it was. But perhaps it will help if I tell you I was embarrassed to find myself crying on 3 occasions - embarrassed until I spoke to the RSAMD's Director of Drama Maggie Kinloch and she confessed she, too, had cried. I think the entire audience struggled to hold back the tears.

Fugee is a slang word for a refugee of political oppression or natural disaster. And these young actors last night, told the tale of the arrival of unaccompanied children fleeing from their country and ending up in the UK. The main character is Kojo. The young guy who plays him comes on stage and tells us "my name's Kojo, I'm from the Congo. I don't look like this guy who's playing me, he's just an actor, but he's using my words and he's telling my story". It's very clever and very effective.

The stories are so distressing - Kojo for example, watched his mother, father and little brother being shot. "Kill me too" he begged. But they didn't want him dead. They wanted him as a soldier. And on that day, his 11th birthday, he was recruited as a child soldier expected to murder others in the way he'd just watched them do to his beloved family. It would have been emotional enough were it all fiction but the fact is that all the stories we heard about last night were true or based on truth.
The Dramaworks Team worked closely with the Scottish Refugee Council and the Young Survivors Group which is made up of young people who really did live the lives being portrayed onstage. They are young people who arrived in Glasgow as orphaned children completely on their own in a country where they didn't speak the language and had no-one but us to help them escape and come to terms with their traumatic pasts.

The Young Survivors group were in the audience last night but we all had to leave and give them a few minutes to gather themselves together. I can't begin to imagine what was going through their minds as they watched it. I had heard of unaccompanied minors arriving looking for refugee status of course, but I had no idea that it was anything more than a rare occurrence. I was wrong - only this week several unaccompanied children have arrived on the doorstep of the Scottish Refugee Council.

There are so many issues surrounding these children but as I'm going to be meeting some of them shortly, I'll wait until then to talk about that. For now I'll just say that last night was a perfect example of why we need to support the arts. Drama is a fantastic medium for getting messages across and nobody, not even the hardest of hearts, could watch Fugee and not want to do something for these children. I just wish everyone could see it.

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