The Claim is an ambitious and rare project – it aims to both represent the experiences of the people going through the asylum system, and to provoke and entertain through a formally inventive, playful text. The project brings together people from different backgrounds – throughout its process, Tim (writer) and Mark (director) have worked with arts organisations but also with human rights organisations including Freedom From Torture, Right to Remain and UNESCO. Our first week rehearsing The Claim reflected the diversity of thought that has gone into the making of this project.
On our first day the actors read the script with the rest of the creative team in a circle around them. This enabled Yusra, Ncuti and Nick (our actors) to engage with us, the audience, creating the fizz of liveness that runs through Tim’s words and is the basis of the meta-theatrical concept that he has written – a dissection of a system whereby the claimant must perform their story, re-enact their trauma within a system whose baseline is mistrust.
We spoke to Jade, a generous woman and refugee who went through the asylum seeking process. Jade answered our questions about the system and spoke of her experience. Her story, along with several other refugees’ words will be accompanying our show on tour so that you can listen to firsthand experiences of the UK asylum system. Sharing the space with Jade was an important part of our process – her input reminded us of the people whose voices we are giving a platform to through this play.
We have been watching and reading various other sources that Mark has identified as key pieces of information. This included the United Nations’ definitions of refugee and asylum seeker, the information available for asylum seekers on the Home Office website and more detailed material on the process via the charity Right to Remain. Accessing and discussing these resources deepened our understanding of what it is like to go through the process, as well as what it is like for those who interview the asylum seekers (A and B in our play). The lack of transparency and beaurocracy of this system affect not only the people whose lives depend on it, but also those whose livelihoods do.
The rest of our week was spent going through the play and sectioning it into ‘beats’, which we identify as points where the temperature in the piece changes. This helped us to develop a shared understanding of the rhythm and structure of the text.
We have been blessed with being based at the wonderful Paines Plough headquarters. It has felt right that we are rehearsing in a space that curves out onto Aldwych – facing the busy heart of London. As the sounds of the city slice into the rehearsal space, we are reminded of how this piece directly engages its audience in a difficult, but necessary, conversation.