We redefined the word refugee - on stage at the Globe
A group of youngsters who came to Britain alone created a play to tell their story their way. It's part of a life skills project we're running to create fun when life seems dark and lonely
They’re waiting – nervously. The sound of footsteps, chatter, bustling, is growing louder. Soon, they’ll have to step out from the safety of the backstage and put on the performance of their lives… literally.
We’re at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, one of the most renowned venues in London. The actors this time are not seasoned pros, but young refugees who’ve made it to Britain alone.
Take 18-year-old Ali, from Iran. He’s here with others like him to perform a play called ‘Voices in the Dark’, for Refugee Week.
The script explores their own stories and frustration at how refugees are represented in the media.
Ali directed, made puppets, acted and even rapped.
THAT GIVES ME HOPE, AND HOPE IS VERY IMPORTANT AT THE MOMENT FOR ME.
The play went well – really well. “I can believe in myself now,” Ali said. “Before, I was a bit shy. But after doing this I know I am good enough to do stuff in front of other people."
"Because it was in front of an audience you feel you did something very big. It was very good for our team.”
The audience was made up of 400 people.
Ali is part of the Red Cross London young refugee project called RnB, which joined up with Compass Collective, a community theatre group, to put on this play in June.
But RnB is not just for theatre, it’s actually a group for weekly life skills sessions for unaccompanied refugees and asylum seekers aged 15-21.
The sessions help young people build connections beyond the Red Cross, understand what support they’re entitled to, develop skills, improve their English and – most importantly – have fun. Moments of light are crucial when you’re a refugee.
Young refugees and asylum seekers have often had hard and dangerous journeys to the UK after fleeing from even more dangerous situations. Once they get here, they typically have to deal with applying for asylum, getting their bearings in a new country and learning English. All of this can cause a lot of fear and loneliness.
Making new friends in the UK
“[RnB] put a smile on our faces,” Ali said. “They want you to have fun. They want you to laugh. That gives me hope, and hope is very important at the moment for me.”
Every Wednesday, Ali comes to the Red Cross centre in Hammersmith to meet his friends – a dozen or so young people from all over the world. It’s the highlight of his week.
On any given week the group might do yoga, photography, circus skills, first aid or football. As the evening goes on, delicious smells drift in from the kitchen and everyone sits down to eat together.
Ali arrived in the UK at the start of the British winter. With no family to support him, nor a place in college or a job, Ali felt isolated and unhappy. That all started to change, when Ali began to attend the RnB project.
“The best thing about RnB is everyone is friendly to me,” said Ali. “I love it!
“For someone like me who doesn’t have any family here, it is very special. People care about me, so I feel less alone. Everyone is very kind.”
The young people at the club come from all over: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia. They have formed a common bond. “When you go there, everyone comes and says, ‘Oh hey Ali, how are you brother?’,” he continued. “That’s so nice. You feel you have some friends.”
A stage debut
One of the highlights of recent years is the drama workshop run by Compass Collective. What started out as a one-off session soon morphed into the 45-minute play at the Globe.
“The place was packed!” Ebrahim said. “When the young people saw the audience coming in, everyone became 100 per cent focused." There was complete silence backstage as they waited to come on. “The Globe told us they hadn’t seen anything like it. It was emotional. It was funny – everyone loved it.”
One part of the show was created by chance at a rehearsal.
“Two of our young people met again at one of our Globe rehearsals – they were from the same village back home and they had lost each other for ten years,” Ebrahim said.
“Everyone cried. We used their story in our play. That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for RnB.”
'Voices in the Dark’ was produced by RnB and Compass Collective – a community theatre group. The play explored the young people’s own stories and their frustration at how refugees are represented in the media.
Ali got involved in all aspects of the performance: he directed, made puppets, acted and even rapped. “I can believe in myself now,” said Ali. “Before, I was a bit shy. But after doing this I know I am good enough to do stuff in front of other people. “Because it was in front of an audience you feel you did something very big. It was very good for our team.
Hope for the future
Ebrahim was 15 when he arrived in London from Iran. Like Ali, he attended the RnB group reluctantly at first. Ten years on, Ebrahim is now working for the group. “It’s a life-changing project,” he said. “It’s a project that cares".
"We bring young people from all these different nationalities together and they turn out to be a family". “It’s very important for our young people to be able to tell their stories. They have a lot to say. But because they’re going through the asylum-seeking process and a lot of other stuff, they often want to give up. It’s all too much to take on.
“My message has always been, ‘No matter what’s going on, we’re here for you. You’ve got to keep going.’”
"I feel I have a family here"
The British Red Cross has a long tradition of supporting refugees and asylum seekers after they flee trauma and persecution. We are the biggest single provider of this support in the UK.
We help in many ways, giving emergency food and clothing where it’s needed, but also give people the support they need to settle into a new, unfamiliar place.
Ali hopes to study languages in the near future. He has a headstart, speaking seven and “a little Spanish” already. He also wants to volunteer.
In the meantime, Ali will be standing at the door of the Hammersmith centre every Wednesday evening – offering some reassurance to young refugees who like him, are trying to find their feet.
“I believe the Red Cross was the one hope for me,” he said. “I was very depressed before, but after I found the Red Cross I feel much happier now. I feel I have brothers and sisters. I feel I have a family here.”
Every refugee matters to us
We work with refugees and people seeking asylum to help them feel safe, live with dignity and build a new life. If, like us, you believe that every refugee matters, get involved by donating below.Donate