Hello again! We, Strawberry Blonde Curls Theatre Company (Rosie MacPherson, pictured left, and John Tomlinson, centre) are thrilled to follow up our last blog with a post-performance in Parliament rundown.
Wow. Where do we begin?
As the House of Lords commenced the first reading of the controversial Immigration Bill, a bill with highly contentious issues surrounding access to services such as healthcare and the right to appeal, we were passing through security at the Houses of Parliament preparing to perform an extract of our new play Tanja, about a female asylum seeker held in a British immigration removal centre – Yarl’s Wood.
We’ve been working with a wonderful charity, City of Sanctuary, to use what we do (theatre) to help with what they do (protect vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees seeking sanctuary from war and violence). Pretty important stuff.
We got off to an interesting start. Our brilliant producer John Tomlinson was stopped at security as he was carrying our prop handcuffs and asked to explain himself. “We’re doing a show about immigration detention, where people who have committed no crime are driven in vans with bars like a cage to Yarl’s Wood and locked up.” Terror suspects can be held for up to 28 days, but asylum seekers? Indefinitely. You can probably guess what happened next.
Yep, the handcuffs were sadly confiscated. The irony, however, was lost on no one.
Yarl’s Wood is in Bedfordshire, a centre surrounded by an 18-foot high perimeter fence topped with barbed wire. There are eight sets of airtight doors that no one other than those held there and the staff are allowed to pass through. It’s protected by the Official Secrets Act. It’s a centre for female asylum seekers but the staff is predominantly male. Serco, the private company that runs Yarl’s Wood, was forced to reveal that 10 members of staff have been dismissed for improper sexual contact with female detainees. These are women fleeing war, torture, rape and sexual trafficking. Channel 4 recently went undercover there and revealed some of the horrific attitudes of the staff towards these highly vulnerable women. It’s worth a watch but be prepared – it’s heartbreaking viewing. Yarl’s Wood was built to house asylum seekers who were put on Fast Track, meaning the decision on whether they have a right to remain could be reached in two weeks. Yet there are people in detention who have been there for months, even years. It’s actually cheaper for the taxpayer for applications to be processed in the community rather than detention, so no matter where you sit on the political spectrum, this is a system that has too much evidence to show that it DOES. NOT. WORK.
So, with fire in our bellies, alongside the talented Hannah Butterfield (pictured right), who has made the show with us, and surrounded by the people who are actually in a position to make the decisions that affect all of us, we gave the performance of our lives. And I mean that. We socked it to ’em. The response was overwhelming and afterwards we made plans with a lot of brilliant activists on how to get the message out there. Because that is the only thing that matters.
The Sanctuary in Parliament event was hosted in committee room 114, a well posh room that serves to remind us all how great this nation is. But do you know what? Listening to the stories of the refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world who bravely spoke that day, the MPs who came to pledge support, the numerous charities and organisations out in force demanding change, it began to feel like we really could be great. But we’ve got a lot of work to do.
The day after our visit to Parliament, MPs voted in favour of UK air strikes on Syria and the country was yet again divided. But something we can all agree on is that only prisoners should be locked up and seeking asylum is not a crime.
Our show Tanja goes on a national tour next year. We’ll be running workshops and talks alongside it to make sure the voices that need to be heard get heard. We continue to campaign and protest and get mad. Please support us by watching, tweeting, emailing your MP, talking about Yarl’s Wood down the pub or at the hairdressers. Whatever. We can’t afford for Yarl’s Wood to remain a secret anymore.