Double figures

When Rosie MacPherson and John Tomlinson graduated from Salford University they didn’t feel doors opened doors for them. Ten years on they are celebrating building their own door

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You’ve arrived in an anonymous UK city direct from Syria, looking to seek asylum, and you’re faced with a barrage of basic tasks like buying food and acquiring medicine without the aid of an interpreter. That’s the premise of Have Your Passport Ready, an online game-cum-film in which the player struggles to survive in this hostile environment.

It’s one of 10 projects marking the tenth anniversary of theatre company Stand Up and Be Counted (SBC), founded by two performing arts graduates from Salford University, Rosie MacPherson and John Tomlinson.

“We felt locked out of the industry. People say you’ve got to knock on the door, but we didn’t even know where the door was,” MacPherson recalls. “Essentially we thought, let’s try to do this ourselves. We’ve been made to feel like what we have to say doesn’t matter. How do we create a company where we’ve removed that for other people as well as ourselves?”

In the 10 years since, SBC has achieved great things, discovering new audiences for bold, inventive work. It’s also become the UK’s first designated Theatre Company of Sanctuary.

“Every type of work we do is with, about and for people seeking sanctuary – asylum seekers, refugees, people new to Britain,” MacPherson says. “They’re the experts, so they lead whatever the project is. They want to use their voice to say what their experience has actually been like and go up against all the nonsense that’s often reported and misrepresented.”

For their tenth anniversary, alongside Have Your Passport Ready the company is presenting Where We Are, a new documentary directed by MacPherson about Tafadzwa Muchenje’s long fight to appeal against a Home Office deportation order. There’s also The Place I Call Home, co-written by MacPherson and Giuditta Mingucci, which takes the unorthodox form of physical correspondence.

“It’s two teenage pen pals in Sheffield and Italy writing to each other through the pandemic, getting themselves through it. You get their letters delivered to your door.”

There are more elements to the anniversary line-up, but of course they can’t involve performers and audiences gathering together in theatres as was originally intended.

“A lot of our plans were based on being together in real life, so that little bit had to change!”

Reflecting on what’s changed during the company’s lifespan so far, MacPherson says: “I’d say there’s still a lot of elitism about who theatre is for, who deserves theatre, which is absolute nonsense. It’s for everyone. I do feel like there’s a lot more pushback on that, particularly in this moment. In terms of immigration and the treatment of migrants, I think it’s getting worse. There’s definitely more awareness, more ability to shout about that stuff and move us past it – but still lots to be done.”

MacPherson feels that SBC is needed more than ever.

“We don’t have a choice. The people that we work with, the charity that usually supports them, had to shut down. There was so much support that they lost, so it wasn’t a question of going on pause while we figure out what we do. The ethical dilemma was, these people depend on us. We have to exist. We have to get bigger, we have to get louder, because there’s more at stake than our little company and a couple of shows.”

Take part in Stand Up and Be Counted Theatre’s tenth anniversary projects at

Photo: Rosie MacPherson (third left), with John Tomlinson (second right), says Stand Up And Be Counted is needed more than ever to help refugees

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