Review: The Walk – When the Birds Land

Manchester gives Little Amal a warm welcome

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On a cold November evening, 5,000 bobble hat-wearing Mancunians wait patiently as Little Amal makes her final journey, ready to start her new life.

The 3.5 metre puppet has walked 8,000km from the Syrian border across Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium to get here, and now she is finally ready to hang her hat in the city she will call home.

To those waiting to welcome Little Amal, she is more than a giant puppet. Those who have followed Little Amal’s journey recognise her as a symbol of all child refugees who have been displaced by war, who are often forced to take treacherous passages in the search for safety.

In 65 villages, towns and cities she has been welcomed by artists, dancers, singers, filmmakers, and painters – as well as civil society and faith leaders including Pope Francis.

Tonight, Little Amal walks through Manchester city centre ready to greet those waiting at Castlefield Bowl in a finale event produced by Manchester International Festival (MIF).

On her way Little Amal walks through Manchester’s streets and is invited to revel in its history; she reaches out to touch the cast iron hand of Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue as she steps into the bright lights of the city. Outside the Manchester Central Convention Complex Julie Hesmondhalgh performs Tony Kinsella’s poem Don’t Tell the Children about Peterloo, while local school children, poets, dancers and the Women’s Asylum Seekers Together Nightingale Choir all welcome Little Amal with their own recitals and dance routines.

Produced by Stephen Daldry, David Lan, Tracey Seaward and Naomi Webb for Good Chance, co-producers of the critically-acclaimed The Jungle, in association with Handspring Puppet Company (War Horse) and led by Good Chance’s artistic director Amir Nizar Zuabi, the extensive public arts project has attracted thousands of spectators from across Europe in a bid to highlight the plight of refugees, but also to demonstrate the bright future asylum seekers can have if afforded dignity in their new homes.

In Castlefield Bowl the atmosphere is jovial. Children shout “Welcome, Amal” and “Refugees are welcome here” as the giant puppet walks into the crowd. Lemn Sissay reads his poem She Read as She Cradled as Little Amal looks on. “Every mother wants a baby like you,” Sissay repeats. Little Amal is certainly welcome here.

And finally, a proper Manchester welcome by drag performer Anna Phylactic, whose backing dancers get Little Amal and the crowd bouncing to Robin S’s Show Me Love.

The night ends with families chatting amongst themselves about the refugee crisis, Afghanistan, Syria, and what more they can do to support unaccompanied children.

As community peace activist professor Erinma Bell tells the crowd, refugees deserve to be more than just “tolerated”. Those fleeing war and persecution deserve to thrive in the countries they seek sanctuary in.

And as Little Amal settles into her new home in Manchester, the city has shown it is ready to embrace her with open arms.

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