Leeds is a special place. Leeds is a City of Sanctuary. Leeds has a Playhouse that is not only renowned as being a creative beacon for the North, but by its own admission is a ‘Vital Theatre’. As part of the 50-year-old institution’s manifesto, it explains: “Vital theatre is the work writers, actors, directors need to make; theatre that audiences need to see.”
From 15 to 18 September, ‘Freedom Project’ moves into the Playhouse’s Bramall Rock Void. It is a piece of theatre, written by Luke Barnes, that I would argue every man, woman and child in the UK should see. The project was created in collaboration with Young Vic Taking Part and was written as a response to Barnes research with young people seeking asylum.
The 80-minute performance combines lived experience with creative theatre-making. The two-person cast of Mohammadreza ‘Reza’ Bazarbashi and Hossein Ahmadi share stories with the audience – simultaneously intensely personal – and also of global importance, that should make most of us in ‘Compassionate Britain’, shift uncomfortably in our seats. I certainly did.
The actors aim to provide an insight into the hidden world of refugees and allow the audience to experience a tiny part of what becomes normal for unaccompanied minors, as they leave their home countries in search of sanctuary.
Honest, reflective, challenging and funny, the young performers – both long-standing participants in Leeds Playhouse’s Theatre of Sanctuary programme – combine moments of dream-like wonder with unflinching fact sharing, drawing the audience into a direct dialogue and asking them to consider what life is really like for children fleeing danger and seeking a new home in the UK.
The team at Leeds Playhouse hope that ‘Freedom Project’ acts as a platform to encourage us all to be open hearted. Young people talk a lot about ‘opening their hearts’ and the more we can encourage people to do that the better. Certainly the general discourse amongst the public in the UK has been moving towards recognising that as a fairly wealthy nation, and a country that has had involvement in Afghanistan, we have a duty to support people coming here.
With the recent seismic events in the Middle East and Africa, the play holds up a powerful lens to militarised patriarchal misogyny and UK foreign policy. It is an uncomfortable watch – for all the right reasons – and the subject matter is more relevant now, than ever before.
‘Freedom Project’ runs at Leeds Playhouse until 18 September.
All images: Zoe Martin