My name is Emily Ntshangase-Wood. I came to the UK 14 years ago. When I came I never thought I would stay for this long and it has been the hardest time in my entire life, because during this time I couldn’t travel or work. I lost my son, brother and my father and have not even seen any of their graves due to the barriers I have faced whilst seeking asylum.
At the moment I am playing the lead role in a new drama about Yarl’s Wood, called Tanja. I play a character that I relate to a lot, because almost all the events she goes through in her journey trying to come to UK – and even when she is in UK – are the experiences that I also went through. Looking back it makes me feel so blessed as the Tanja character is someone who reflects all of the hope and courage of the women trapped in immigration removal centres across the UK. Despite all the horrendous experiences, both of us never lost hope and our mission is to give hope to the hopeless.
I got involved with Strawberry Blonde Curls Theatre through my work as an ambassador with City of Sanctuary, an incredible organisation that helps asylum seekers to go through the tedious process of seeking asylum in UK. They met with the SBC team during the early stages of making the show and invited them to perform at Parliament.
Working with SBC has been a dream come true for me. I have never been in a performance like this and it has been so exciting and challenging to work with aspiring, talented and determined people who want to make work that is truthful, imaginative and timely. The script and the aim of the project is to show audiences what it is like to go through the asylum system and what happens in an immigration removal centre. They have BSL, poetry, music, spoken word, physicality along with the text to portray this. SBC Theatre has become the first ever Theatre Company of Sanctuary, joining West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Young Vic as Theatres of Sanctuary.
I feel that if we all can be united in fighting for asylum seekers not to be treated like prisoners, then things can change for the better. We want to spread the word to the many who are unaware about the existence of Yarl’s Wood, and I think there’s no better way to inform the wider public than through a piece of drama.
People can get involved mainly through organisations that work with and for asylum seekers, including City of Sanctuary, Women for Refugee Women, the Refugee Council and Movement for Justice. The next protest at Yarl’s Wood will be on Saturday 10 September and we’ll all be there to speak up about this.
Emily Ntshangase-Wood plays the lead role in Tanja at venues across the country, beginning at the Lowry on Friday 16 & Saturday 17 September. See here for full tour details