Last year I started to write a blog for the first time, I managed four entries. I stopped in September when I started to write the company’s most recent play The Space Between Us. I had been working with women from 24 countries, blown from four corners of the earth. The aim of the project was to create a play directly informed by the lived experiences of women from minority communities living in the North East. In the blogs I wrote about my thoughts on the women’s experiences of discrimination, of my disgust at the asylum system, and questioned whether theatre can really change the world. I always say, I like a challenge, but the reason I stopped writing the blogs because this script was the toughest challenge I have faced so far, and its only now that I can write about it.
The women I was working with share space e.g. school gates, community centres and estates but they don’t share lives. I felt it was important to highlight space between communities, how we co-exist but have divisions that separate us from any real connection. I started to write monologues. Using direct address, the characters would talk to the audience. The first draft was set at a community cohesion event, bringing everyone together, sharing food and stories of family, history and culture. I thought this would lead to a cracking play. I wrote about a clumsy white woman asking questions about community cohesion, the Hijab and whether Muslims listen to music (this was me). The idea sounded good, but the first draft wasn’t.
The creative team entered the research and development. We created movement, space and a soundscape but it didn’t glue together. I got frustrated at the space between the characters, the fact that I couldn’t bridge the divide, and wanted to break free of the reality around me. While pulling my hair out I thought about the floods and evacuations, and suggested to the director that the women seek sanctuary in a local pub, the director said a church. I agreed the church had more potential but I managed to have one of the characters find the holy wine, and taste the blood of Christ, apparently it ‘tastes like Echo Falls’.
Each of the women are at a turning point in their lives, Cheyanne, a British Traveller living on a local site, is set to leave her violent partner. Eman, an Arabic woman from Syria, locks horns with her husband over the civil war and her right to recognition and freedom. 15yr-old Eyshan, a Czech/Roma whose relationship with a non-Roma boy has been discovered by her brother and threats are made to tell her parents. Zeyna, a Muslim lesbian from Nigeria, refused asylum, destitute and fearing deportation, she’s on the run from immigration.
On their arrival at the church nothing is how it should be. There are no lights, the presence of a man, police or immigration, and they have no phone signal. As the night passes the women connect through the space that divides them, sharing experiences of discrimination, culture and loss. However on discovery that the man’s money has been stolen, the women bounce apart. They battle each other, with Zeyna being top of the hit list. Prejudice and racism from within minority communities is exposed. When Zeyna’s sexuality is revealed, Eman cannot hide her disgust and threatens her with the police. Zeyna can’t go back to Nigeria, and feels she has no alternative but to take her own life. The flood waters enter the church and the women find themselves in a battle to save Zeyna’s life and humanity itself.
As the water rises and the lights fade, 15yr-old Eyshan vents her frustration at the rules that govern their lives, she wants a new way, one where women are free, safe and have their basic human rights respected.
It was a challenge for the women to survive this night and for me to write this play. It challenged audiences and changed perspectives when toured in March and April 2013. I believe it was a huge success, and all evidence gathered backs this up. No other theatre company in the North East is doing this sort of work. We ask difficult questions, encourage debate, ask for solidarity and agitate for change.
We are currently working with the women to support them to create and perform theatre and film that further supports the telling of their individual stories; this along with the play will be celebrated in November 2013.