For #LoveTheatre Day we handed over the reigns of our Instagram account to our fabulous Costume department so that we could peek into their mad world of costume changes, wigs, mid-show fixes and other behind the scenes action on our production of Twelfth Night.
We’re thrilled to announce a second season of shows from our artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah. From exciting world premieres to gripping adaptations of classics we have got it all coming up in 2019.
Death of A Salesman
By Arthur Miller | Directed by Marianne Elliott
Main House | 1 May – 29 June
“I don’t say he’s a great man…but he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”
Award-winning director Marianne Elliott brings her unique vision to one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century, seen through the eyes of an African American family.
Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Suits, Selma) makes his UK stage debut as Willy Loman, with Olivier Award-winning Sharon D. Clarke as Linda Loman and Arinzé Kene (Misty, Been So Long) as Biff Loman.
Created by Idris Elba & Kwame Kwei-Armah | Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah
A Young Vic, Manchester International Festival and Green Door Pictures co-production
Young Vic | 29 July – 24 Aug 2019
Manchester International Festival | 29 June – 10 July 2019
Tree takes you on a thrilling journey in search of the soul and spirit of contemporary South Africa. Created by Idris Elba, whose album Mi Mandela provides the soundtrack, and Kwame Kwei-Armah, this major world-premiere production, performed in the round.
Music, dance and film combine with an exciting cast to explore the past, present and future of this country at a crossroads – all through the eyes of one young man on a journey of healing.
By Federíco Garcia Lorca, in a new version by Marina Carr | Directed by Yaël Farber
Main House | 19 Sept – 2 Nov 2019
We’re all curious about what might hurt us…
What do you do when the day that’s supposed to be the happiest of your life becomes a living nightmare?
A repressed, passionate love affair rears its head on the day two young people tie the knot. What is done cannot be undone.
Multiple award-winning director Yaël Farber (Les Blancs, Mies Julie, The Crucible), brings Federíco Garcia Lorca’s most famous tragedy Blood Wedding to the Young Vic in a new version by Marina Carr.
By Jackie Sibblies Drury | Directed by Nadia Latif
Main House | 28 Nov 2019 – 18 Jan 2020
“Dazzling and ruthless…a glorious, scary reminder of the unmatched power of live theatre to rattle, roil and shake us wide awake.” —The New York Times (Critic’s Pick)
Following a ground-breaking, sell-out run in New York, Jackie Sibblies Drury’sFairview is an interrogation of our subtly destructive preconceptions. This radical examination of power is directed by Young Vic’s Genesis Fellow / Associate Director, Nadia Latif.
It’s Grandma’s birthday and the Frasier family have gathered to celebrate. Beverly just wants everything to run smoothly, but Tyrone has missed his flight, Keisha is freaking out about college and Grandma has locked herself in the bathroom.
A Young Vic and Los Angeles Performance Practice co-production
Writer, Performer and Sound Designer Okwui Okpokwasili | Director, Visual and Sound Designer Peter Born
Maria Studio | 1 – 29 June
Part theatre, part dance and part visual art installation, Okwui Okpokwasili’sBronx Gothic delves into her memories of growing up in the Bronx, before emerging into a breathtaking exploration of girlhood.
Created in collaboration with Peter Born, in this UK premiere, Bronx Gothic draws on inspiration from West African griot storytelling and the epistolary style of the Victorian novel to ask what it means to be brown in a world that values whiteness.
Okwui Okpokwasili is a 2018 MacArthur ‘Genius Award’ recipient.
By April De Angelis | Directed by Lekan Lawal
Clare Studio | 6 – 16 February
This is some Interview.
Frank is nervous, his interview with Dr Jacqueline Pitt and Dr Marcia Gray is about to begin. If he can do this, it’s his ticket back to Russia.
But secret motivations reveal themselves as the three get caught in each-others’ crossfire during the course of questioning – and all under the ever-present eye of the higher-ups.
Outlandish and surreal, April De Angelis’Wild East artfully turns the most sterile of settings, a corporate job interview, into a sharp comedy about the permeation of human chaos.
Directed by Genesis Award winner Lekan Lawal.
“Wild East is possibly best described as the funniest play Ionesco never wrote, but even that doesn’t do justice to the job interview gone eccentrically, even apocalyptically haywire.” Variety
Ivan & The Dogs
By Hatti Naylor | Directed by Caitriona Shoobridge
Clare Studio | 10 – 20 July
All the money went and there was nothing to buy food with…So mothers and fathers tried to find things they could get rid of, things that ate, things that drank, or things that needed to be kept warm
…The dogs went first.
Four-year-old Ivan would rather face living on the streets of Moscow than stay home. Now, to survive he faces new challenges; from young gangs of boys to the police, and his own hunger.
But all is not lost as Ivan finds family amongst the other outcasts around him – the dogs.
Genesis Award winner Caitriona Shoobridge directs this one-person play exploring the need for kindness and trust, when despite being betrayed by the people around you, family can still be forged in the face of adversity.
“Hattie Naylor’s writing beautifully conveys the incredible way the boy and dogs connected to each other, and one leaves the theatre feeling disgust for those on two legs, but admiration for those on four.” The Telegraph
YV Unpacked: Spring Awakening
By Franz Wedekind |Adapted from the 1891 text by Caroline Byrne | Directed by Caroline Byrne
The Clare | –
He said roses in the flowerbeds have such meagre blooms every summer because they are over-protected and over pruned.
He said he was a weed.
Am I then the rose?
Moritz has been having dreams about legs in blue stockings again. Wendla wants to feel something, anything. Meanwhile, Melchior’s basically got it all figured out…
A vital, timeless tale exploring the consequences of a society which struggles to be open about sex and sexuality.
Featuring a cast including actor-musicians, Caroline Byrne’s timely adaptation is stripped bare by raw percussive energy composed by Tasha Taylor Johnson and Line Bech’s striking costume designs.
The Jumper Factory
Conceived by Young Vic Taking Part & Justin Audibert |By Luke Barnes |Directed by Josh Parr
Maria Studio | 27 February – 9 March
Created in collaboration with inmates at HMP Wandsworth and written by Luke Barnes, this intimate and powerful new piece explores the stories of people behind bars and the resilience they need to face a world that moves without them.
A preview of the National Theatre and National Film Board of Canada production, presented by the Young Vic.
Maria Studio | 21 January – 2 February
Draw Me Close blurs the worlds of live performance, virtual reality and animation to create a vivid memoir about the relationship between a mother and her son in the wake of her terminal-cancer diagnosis.
The experience is by award-winning playwright and filmmaker Jordan Tannahill, in a co-production between the National Theatre’sImmersive Storytelling Studio and National Film Board of Canada, in collaboration with All Seeing Eye, with illustrations by Teva Harrison.
A Young Vic and David Weale-Cochrane and Kwame Kwei-Armah Jr co-production
The 8 Club is a pioneering, free to access, video series investigating the subjects that really matter to young men. Provocative and often unspoken topics for men, such as mental health, ‘toxic masculinity’ and personal relationships are faced head-on.
Release dates to be announced soon.
Taking Part in 2019
Our work with young people and our local communities is a major part of our artistic life, offering free tickets, workshops, projects and the chance to make and perform in shows. Exciting things coming up in 2019 include…
YV Unpackedis a new strand of work, taking the highest quality theatre to people who don’t normally think that theatre is for them. We will be taking shows to refugee centres, prisons, community hubs and homeless shelters as part of this work. Our 2019 Unpacked, following Spring Awakening which will be taken out to the community isShe Ventures, and He Wins, by Ariadne.
The Wonderful Way to Marbleous Town returns in 2019 after a successful run for schools last summer. Directed by Natasha Nixon and designed by Kirsty Harris, this playful non-verbal performance welcomes you into a magical world, where we can discover our true selves. This is part of our work for children and young people who prefer an open and relaxed performance environment. Tickets will be available to SEND schools.
The Freedom Project: Working collaboratively as the UK’s first two Theatres of Sanctuary, The Young Vic and Leeds Playhouse will co-commission a new play exploring the idea of social freedoms.
Written in response to the words and stories of refugees and asylum seekers in London and Leeds, the project will begin at The Young Vic during Refugee Week 2019 and will culminate the following year with a co-production of a new play by Luke Barnes. The piece will be performed by local refugees and asylum seekers in both Leeds and London.
Forest will be our response to Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s production of Tree. For the first time, all three strands of Taking Part will come together to make a new show, including our neighbours and friends of all ages. There will be music, dancing, joy and a great story.
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By becoming a Friend you’ll get advance access to this new season of work and you’ll be supporting the Directors Program, our unique training program for emerging directors, and Taking Part, our deep rooted education and engagement program in our local area. Become a Friend
In the theatre world, sometimes those behind the scenes can get lost amongst the glamour and glitz of what’s on stage – so this year for Stage Manager’s Day we handed our wonderful stage managers the reigns to our Instagram account to reclaim the spotlight and show off what they do best.
See the highlights below!
Twelfth Night runs until 17 Nov at the Young Vic. Limited tickets from £10.
We’re thrilled to announce a new season of shows from our new artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah. In addition to this we’ve announced two exciting upcoming projects called My England and YV Unpacked. You can read more about these below.
Tickets are on sale now to YV Friends. Public booking opens at 10am on Monday 23 April.
A Musical Adaptation of William Shakespeare’s
Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub
Music and Lyrics by Shaina Taub
Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Oskar Eustis
2 Oct – 17 Nov 2018
Shakespeare meets his match as brass bands and Beyoncé weave through this enchanting musical adaptation of Twelfth Night, with music and lyrics by the critically acclaimed songwriter Shaina Taub.
Young Vic Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah and Oskar Eustis co-direct this technicolour celebration of love in all its forms, following a run at the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park.
★★★★ “A rich and gripping drama” – Financial Times
Black Panther star and Tony-nominated writer Danai Gurira’s striking play explores the impact of colonialism and Catholicism on black identity.
It’s 1896 and Jekesai, a young woman fleeing forced marriage, finds herself working for a devout Catholic. Chilford dreams of being an English priest and relishes the opportunity to mould his new convert. But Jekesai’s salvation has its price as her individuality is slowly stripped away…
★★★★ “Shocking, shattering, stunningly well-written” – The Daily Telegraph “Like a shot of caffeine straight in the veins” – The Guardian
From Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Adly Guirgis (The Motherf$%ker with the Hat), a dark comedy about the contradictory nature of faith.
Inside the lockdown wing of Rikers Island prison, a frightened young man accused of murdering a cult leader is confronted with a charismatic born-again serial killer and a sadistic guard.
Will one man’s redemption lead to another’s damnation?…
By Naomi Wallace | Directed by Debbie Hannan, 2018 Genesis Award winner
Clare Studio | 15 – 25 August 2018
★★★★ “A gorgeously written and philosophically rich celebration of a black Communist agitator in Depression-era South”
Time Out New York
The knock at the door. Because there is always a knock at the door…
Tice Hogan and his daughter Cali live a quiet life, keeping their heads down, reading the Bible, Karl Marx, and washing the rich folks’ laundry. Until one day an unknown white factory worker crashes into their lives.
Weaving the spiritual into the political, Things of Dry Hours interrogates the idea that humans cannot change; are we really all that black and white?
2018 Genesis Award winner Debbie Hannan directs this tantalizing, poetic play.
My England is a celebration of playwrights from across regions of England. The works look at what it means to be English. Video monologues will be recorded and shown on the Young Vic social media channels.
Confirmed commissions include work from: Leo Skilbeck, Omar El-Khairy, Polly Stenham, Barrie Rutter, Jack Thorne and May Sumbwanyambe.
YV Unpacked is a new strand of work, taking the highest quality theatre to people who do not normally think that theatre is for them. We will be taking shows to refugee centres, prisons, community hubs and home-less shelters as part of this work. The first work to be taken out to the community is:
Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind, directed Caroline Byrne.
Nick Gasson is currently starring in Wingsat the Young Vic. His character is struggling to rebuild his communication skills after experiencing aphasia – a condition that affects the brain and leads to problems with speech and language.
We caught up with Nick to ask him these 11 questions . . .
1. Can you describe your character in Wings in three words?
Recovering stroke victim
2. What can the audience expect from this production that’s different to anything else they are likely to have seen before?
Wings is an extra-sensory experience!
3. What’s the most exciting thing about being part of this Young Vic production?
Working with such an amazing team of actors and crew
4. Emily Stilson was a wing walker. What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Going on the ‘tea-cups’ ride at the funfair!
4. How do you think this show will make audiences feel?
Apart from hugely impressed at Juliet Stevenson’s performance, I think they will feel like they have a better understanding of what goes on in the head of someone who’s had a major stroke
5. What has it been like working with Natalie Abrahami?
Wonderful. Her approach is always collaborative and the final results are finely detailed
6. What are you usually doing 10 minutes before the show begins?
Reading the papers!
7. What is your favourite play you’ve either seen, read or worked on?
There have been so many but in terms of taking part, playing the old tramp Davies in 3 tours of The Caretaker. Plays that really stunned me when I saw them include Bent and Angels in America, both at the National Theatre.
What was it that first got you interested in the theatre?
Writing and performing in play at primary school
8. What’s the funniest thing that happened to you recently?
I was in my local bar in Spain and Bobby Davro walked in. You have to be fairly old to know who he is, but he was a popular comedian / entertainer on TV in the 1980’s.
9. What’s the one thing you value most in life?
Got to be either health or the feeling of warm sun on your face
10. Who is your ultimate hero, and what would you say to them if you ever met them?
No longer with us: David Bowie. I’d say ‘Fancy a pint?’. Alive: Judi Dench. I’d say ‘Fancy a cuppa and a chat?’
11. If you could have been born in any era, which would it be and why?
I wish I’d been born in ’67 rather than ’57. So much changed for the better in those 10 years.
Wings runs at the Young Vic until 4 November. Juliet Stevenson stars as Emily, an aviator who suffers a stroke that destroys her sense of reality. Fragments of her life come together as she struggles to find her voice and sense of self.
The Young Vic is thrilled to announce that Kwame Kwei-Armah will become the new Artistic Director in February 2018.
Kwame Kwei-Armah will become the new Artistic Director in February 2018
Kwame Kwei-Armah is an award-winning director and playwright and the outgoing Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage where he directed extensively. Directing credits also include New York’s Public Theater, Signature Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Repertory Theatre. His production of One Night in Miami at the Donmar Warehouse was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best New Play.
His works as playwright include One Love (Birmingham Rep), Marley, Beneatha’s Place (Baltimore Center Stage), Elmina’s Kitchen, Fix Up, Statement of Regret (National Theatre) and Let There Be Love and Seize the Day (Tricycle Theatre). Kwame was the Chancellor of the University of the Arts London from 2010-15, and in 2012 was awarded an OBE for Services to Drama.
Kwame will succeed David Lan further to the announcement that he would be stepping down in 2018 after 18 years in the role. Kwame will announce his first season of work as Artistic Director in the new year.
Kwame Kwei-Armah says: “To walk into the Young Vic is to come face to face with everything I love about theatre, so I am beyond humbled, if not a little scared. But to lead this magnificent theatre at this time in our nation’s history, after such a visionary as David, excites me beyond words. I can’t wait to get started.”
Patrick McKenna, Chair of the Board, says: “After meeting Kwame the panel was unanimous in its decision to appoint him as the next leader for this remarkable institution. Kwame’s wealth of experience directing, writing and working with the local community in Baltimore and beyond will translate beautifully to his new role leading the work on the Young Vic’s three stages as well as its pioneering outreach and education work in London.”
David Lan, outgoing Artistic Director, says: “The choice the panel has made is inspired. I welcome it wholeheartedly and will do whatever I can to support Kwame in the early days as he finds his own distinctive way to keep the Young Vic one of the great producing theatres of this country and the world.”
The reviews are in forNina: A Story about me & Nina Simone! Josette Bushell-Mingo, and her three piece band, mix story and song as she draws together tales from the life of Nina Simone, Josette’s own extraordinary career and the Black Lives Matter movement. This production is all sold out but you are welcome to join our returns queue from 6.45pm each night.
You can read the reviews below and check out what audiences have been saying so far in our Storify round up.
Josette Bushell-Mingo and band in Nina at the Young Vic. Photo by Simon Annand
Last month the Young Vic and York Theatre Royal held a workshop for directors and theatre makers who live and work in Yorkshire and the North East, through the Young Vic Directors Program Reach Out scheme.
Eight young directors who have been making socially responsive theatre met with York Theatre Royal Associate Artist John R. Wilkinson, Sue Emmas, Associate Artistic Director of the Young Vic, and Imogen Brodie, Director of Taking Part at the Young Vic. The session delved into the work of the Young Vic’s Taking Part department and how the theatre engages with schools, colleges, young people and local residents of Lambeth and Southwark. In particular it looked at the past production of Men in Blue, a community response to Blue/Orange which worked with men who had suffered more than one episode of psychosis.
The day started with some classic exercises to get to know the names of everyone in the room, including ball games used in the original Men in Blue workshops. The morning session largely focused on the work the Taking Part does within it’s communities and what it achieves with it’s community productions. Imogen talked about the process behind developing several Taking Part projects such as Men in Blue and See Me Now.
Also discussed were the ethics of participatory theatre, what we hope to achieve through it, and who it ultimately helps. The directors then completed some of the exercises used within the development of the Men in Blue project. These included writing exercises starting with the sentences ‘A man is’, ‘Today is’ and ‘I am scared of’. The results of the exercises done during the Men in Blue process actually made it in to the script. The group shared both their responses and the responses of the Men in Blue, and interesting example of how much content you can create through a simple exercise.
The afternoon session focused particularly on Men in Blue and the processes, road bumps and troubleshooting that arose within that particular project. Afterwards the directors paired up and came up with their own ideas for participatory theatre that could have been made in response to Blue/Orange. These ideas, or individual ideas that the directors were currently working on, were pitched to Sue and Imogen. They gave advice on the holes and highs within the concepts before the pitches were discussed and dissected by the whole group. This was an invaluable exercise for the participants in developing an idea into a tangible option.
Imogen Brodie’s top tips to working in Participatory Theatre:
• Make friends with partner organisations
• Make a project as flexible as possible to work with the needs of the participants
• Individualise schedules for participants
• Feed people
• Contact people on mobiles
• Be prepared to do a lot of pastoral work
• Be prepared to give a lot of yourself
• Be open to whatever people bring, no matter how odd or off beam it seems
• Get a brilliant creative team who are interested in other people
• Only do this work if you really like people
• Go to them
• Have the same standards and creative ambitions for the work as you would for professional work
• Have a sense of humour
• Remember this is not their job
• Be mindful of language and people’s frame of reference
• Be super organised
• Know what you want people to get out of it and make sure that happens
• Don’t be a dick
Reach Out is a Young Vic Directors Program initiative that runs a range of activities for directors across England who live and work outside London. Some take place at the Young Vic and others are run in association with theatres we are either touring work to or have ongoing relationships with.
Keen to attend a future Reach Out event or interested in joining our Genesis Directors Network? Read all about the Directors Program and the opportunities it offer.
About the Genesis Foundation
The Genesis Foundation has supported the Young Vic for nearly 15 years, including the Young Vic’s director’s program since its inception. The Genesis Foundation is pleased to fund the Genesis Fellow and Genesis Fellow Production Fund, the Genesis Future Directors Awards and the Genesis Directors Network at the Young Vic.
Established by John Studzinski in 2001, the Genesis Foundation works in partnership with the leaders of prestigious UK arts organisations such as LAMDA, the National Theatre, Royal Court, The Sixteen and the Young Vic. Its largest funding commitment is to programmes that support directors, playwrights, actors and musicians in the early stages of their professional lives.
The theme of art and faith increasingly characterises aspects of the Foundation’s work with choral commissions including James MacMillan’s Stabat mater.
We’re thrilled to announce the rest of the cast of Wings directed by Natalie Abrahami, playing in the Main House from 14 September. Joining Juliet Stevenson is Lorna Brown, Kelle Bryan, David Emmings, Nicholas Gasson, Richard James-Neale, Emily Mytton, Mary Sheen and Emily Wachter. Find out more about them below.
Lorna Brown makes her Young Vic debut in Wings. Recent theatre credits include: Bodies, Torn (Royal Court); Things of Dry Hours (The Gate); The Oresteia (Almeida / West End); Little Light (The Orange Tree); Medea, Blurred Lines, Damned by Despair (National Theatre); Crowning Glory (Stratford East); Fear (The Bush); Clybourne Park (Royal Court / West End); Short Fuses (BOV) and Once on this Island (Hackney Empire / Tour). Film credits include: The Lady in the Van, Taking Stock and Les Miserables. Television credits include: Chewing Gum, Holby City, True Love and Outnumbered.
Kelle Bryan makes her Young Vic debut in Wings.
Recent theatre credits include: The Exonerated (Charing Cross Theatre); Cinderella (PHA); Rebellion (ODAC Ltd); The Extra Factor (No. 1 Tour); Torn by Femi Oguns (Arcola Theatre); Cinderella (Catford Broadway Theatre); The Brothers (The Drum Theatre / Hackney Empire); Bouncers by John Gober (Berkley Players); Jack and the Beanstalk (Channel Theatre) and My Fair Lady (Manchester Palace). Film credits include: The Naked Poet, In the Mix and The Virus. Television Credits include: Me & Mrs Jones, The Knot, The National Lottery, The Brothers and Glitter Ball.
David Emmings makes his Young Vic debut in Wings. Recent theatre credits:The Missing Light (The Old Vic); Emily Rising (Little Angel Theatre); Sleeping Beauty (Bristol Old Vic);The Elephantom (National Theatre / West End); Something Very Far Away (Unicorn Theatre / International Tour); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bristol Old Vic / Spoleto Festival USA), Father Christmas (Lyric Hammersmith); The Confetti Maker (New Diorama Theatre) and War Horse (National Theatre / West End). Film credits:The Homeless Polar Bear, Sherlock Holmes and Alice. Short Film credits:Brilliant and Mime Poker.
Nicholas Gasson makes his Young Vic debut in Wings. Recent theatre credits include: Entertaining Mr Sloane, The Caretaker and Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (London Classic Theatre / Tour); The Dumb Waiter, The Lover, The Picture of Dorian Gray (European Arts Company Tour); Talking Heads (Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds); James and the Giant Peach (No. 1 Tour); Season’s Greetings (Mill Theatre) and Pink for a Boy (Oldham Coliseum). Television credits include: Merlin, EastEnders, Doctors, Shadow in the North and Private Life of an Easter Masterpiece.
Richard James-Nealemakes his Young Vic debut in Wings. Recent theatre credits include: The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe); Watership Down (Watermill Theatre); Peter Pan (Regent’s Park Open Air); Othello (Frantic Assembly / UK Tour); Emil and the Detectives (National Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Tooting Arts Club); Charlotte’s Web (Derby Theatre); Pygmalion (Old Vic) and In Doggerland (Theatre 503). Film credits include: The Legend of Tarzan, Dragon, When I’m Gone, Nadya’s Circus and The Situation. Television credits include: Thanks For The Memories, Atlantis and The Insiders.
Emily Mytton makes her Young Vic debut in Wings. Recent theatre credits include: My Brilliant Friend (Rose Theatre); Magic Flute (ENO); Medea (Almeida Theatre); From Morning to Midnight, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, WarHorse and His Dark Materials (National Theatre); The Empress and The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe (RSC); The Drowned Man and Tunnel 228 (PunchDrunk); World Cup 1966 and The Creation of the Violin (BAC); The Lesson (Theatre O); Beasts and Beauties (Hampstead Theatre); The Chimp that Spoke (David Glass Ensemble) and Red Ladies (Clod Ensemble).
Mary Sheen makes her Young Vic debut in Wings. Recent theatre credits include: The Importance of Being Earnest (Politiker Productions); The Sonnet Walk (Globe); Losing It, A Fine Line and Courting Disaster (Soho Theatre); The Fastest Clock in the Universe (Sweetspot Theatre); Hyacinth Blue (Clean Break Theatre); 84 Charing Cross Road and She Stoops to Conquer (both which she won Derby Evening Telegraph Actress of the Year, Derby Playhouse). Television credits include: Foyle’s War, Southcliffe, The Last Note, The Innocence Project and Dirty Filthy Love. Film credits include: United Strong Alone, The Last Upper, Barley Sugar and Skin Deep.
Emily Wachter makes her Young Vic debut in Wings. Recent theatre credits include: My Brilliant Friend (Rose Theatre); Swallow (Traverse Theatre); Britain’s Best Recruiting Sergeant, Caucasian Chalk Circle (Unicorn Theatre); Bedroom Farce (Salisbury Playhouse); The Humans (Avignon Festival); From Morning to Midnight (National Theatre); Rats’ Tales (Manchester Royal Exchange); Pride and Prejudice (Theatre Royal Bath); Doctor Foster (Menier Chocolate Factory) and Julius Caesar (RSC). Television credits include: Pyschoville, Compulsion and Judge John Deed. Radio credits include: Maiden’s Trip, Sagrasso, The Way We live Right Now and High Table, Low Orders.
Wings by Arthur Kopit, direction by Natalie Abrahami runs in the Main House of the Young Vic from 14 Sept – 4 Nov. Tickets available to book now.
This week as part of Refugee Week we spoke to Abdi Ali about his experiences of leaving Somalia for Canada, and having to claim asylum in England. Abdi is one of our Two Boroughs members and was a participant in Young Vic Taking Part’s production Go Between. What’s below is his story…
Abdi Ali. Photo by Jordan Lee
Tell us what your experience was of coming here?
When I left Africa everything was like a dream. It didn’t hit me until I landed in Gatwick airport, and I was thinking shit what am I going to do.
I don’t think it sank in till I got here and I was 14 and I was at the airport, loads of people passing by, don’t speak the language, and I have to find a certain gate for my aeroplane going to leave from, and obviously I was travelling with this guy and the plan was I wasn’t going to talk to him. He was sitting a couple of seats in front. And I said OK. I will only speak to you if I have to and the plan was we walk off the plane and we walk up to gate 38. And I couldn’t find it, because to me I was just a kid and I just panicked. I couldn’t find it. I didn’t see him. He just disappeared into the crowds.
And I wandered round the airport from one place to another and before I knew it the immigration got the attention of this young boy wandering around the airport, and they called me and tried to get my attention, but I didn’t speak any English. This was in the 80s there wasn’t a lot of Somalis in the country, so they had to resort to this old British army guy and they had to get him all the way from Brighton and bring him over. And he spoke good Somali but the sort that my granddad would speak. I was kind of struggling as my language is kind of mixed up with slang, he was like proper Somali, and he interpreted for me and he says, “why are you here?” and I said I was going to Canada – and where am I anyway? – as I wasn’t even sure what country I was in. And he said, “You’re in England, and I said “I am going to Canada and this is my passport and this is my ticket.” And the minute I showed the passport they all laughed and said “Well, this isn’t yours.” The guy hadn’t even changed the picture. The plan was he was given money and he could have made efforts. But he didn’t. So the picture in my passport was of a forty something year old man from Tanzania. And immediately immigration said “well this is illegal. We can’t allow you to travel further. “
They said, “You have two choices- we know you have come from Somalia, and we know there are problems there so you can ask for asylum. Or we can send you back…” Staying here wasn’t an option for me. It was a weird scenario because they would bring us back to the airport in the morning and then take us back to a detention centre at night. For 30 days and every morning the same interview. Asking “do you accept your stay here?”, and I was like “no, I don’t know anybody here, I don’t speak the language who is gonna look after me?” A lot of people who I speak to, they think that as an asylum seeker or refugee you have already calculated what kind of benefits you are going to get. For me it was like – these people are telling me to stay here, and who is going to look after me, and that was my main concern. When I went back to the detention centre there were lots of other people who were staying there for all sorts of different reasons; some getting deported, and there was another Somali guy who could speak English and he interpreted for me, and there were a couple of Jamaican guys who were asking lots of questions – “why are you here?” And I was like, “I don’t want to stay here. I want to go to Canada and they won’t let me”, and they said “well, will they allow you to stay here?” and I said yes, and they said “Are you crazy ? Just accept it!” They are here trying every trick in the book not to be deported and I was actually refusing to stay in England. And I said “who is gonna look after me?”, they says, “oh they will look after you and you will get money and housing and stuff.”
After 30 days I went to the last interview and they got really serious – either we deport you back or you sign this document saying that you want to stay here – and I said “OK, I am gonna stay here.” But the night before they [the people at the detention centre] told me not to say I was 14. Which was completely the biggest mistake I made. “Say you are 20. Because obviously the documents you are travelling with are not yours, because if you say you are 14 they will put you in care and you’ll be abused and all kind of things… “ So they had given me the wrong information. So I went there the next day and said I am 20. They looked at me. And the whole panel didn’t believe me, but because they were stuck with me for 30 days and they just wanted to get rid of me. So they were just like OK.
They gave me this ELR letter and an address of a hostel in Wembley, and three pounds, and a travel card and that was it. And got me out of Gatwick airport and showed me the train and were like – bye! And I am like how am I meant to work out where to go? So it wasn’t just me there was a whole group of us and a couple of them spoke English. But at that time the Somalis were coming here because the civil war was quite raw, and there was that kind of division, and I come from a very minority clan so I find myself … and the ones I can identify with abandon me because I am from the wrong clan and I find myself alone in London and couldn’t find the hostel.
So I slept around Victoria for two nights, one morning I just came up with this idea. I was like, well, I speak five African languages, I am bound to find someone I can communicate with. So I was standing outside Victoria station and any black person, I would just throw words any language. Some were looking at me just passing not understanding what I was talking about. Some were thinking I was mad. And then there was this particular woman who responded and I was like “Fantastic, you have got to take me to this hostel”, and it was like 8am in the morning, and she said “No, I have to go to work, and Wembley is like miles away”, and I said “I don’t care, you speak my language and I have been speaking rough for two nights and you have got to take me to this hostel.” She said “I am going to work, and if you can wait outside I can take you this evening”, and she thought I would disappear after about an hour, but I just camped out outside her work and just sat there. She came out for her lunch break and I was still sitting there – she bought me a sandwich, and then at about 6/7pm she came out and took me to Wembley. And went to this hostel and the rest is history.
I stayed in the hostel and got into a bit of trouble, basically because when you go to a hostel environment and you are quite naive and don’t speak the language. I was taken advantage of by a certain group of people there – getting me involved in criminal activities which I wasn’t happy with.
How did you meet your wife?
I met her in the African Centre watching a band, and I remember, I was at a crossroads in about 1996. I came out of prison. I was confused. Did not want to stay here any more. My life hadn’t been great since I came here, and I didn’t want to go back to East London and I was watching this band – a Congolese band, and Lucy was there with her friend, and there was a group of guys who were like really harassing them and all over them, and I was somehow finding the whole thing amusing – I don’t know why. And I was just thinking how are they going to get out of this as there are five guys just being really blokey, trying to push it, and then Lucy came over and sat next to me and was like “do you have a lighter?” And I said “Are you a student ?” “Why are you asking me that?” And I said “well, typical student, they don’t have cigarette or they don’t have a lighter – one or the other.” And then we got talking and then we became friends.
We have been together for 18 years. That was the turning point, as well as living in a squat, because when I came out of prison I was living in a squat. They sent me to a hostel, and the hostel where I was going was with people who were involved in crime that I knew, and I knew if I went back there I would go back to drugs, so I met a group of squatters. They had this house. I used to see them in the park and we used to play football and talk, and one of the guys said, “I live in a big squat . I see your situation. We have strict rules there – if you bring someone into this community you have to talk to everybody, and also you have to respect other people’s property and stuff like that” – and I was like “yeah, that’s fine.” And I moved in with them and I think my life changed from that point, meeting Lucy and having a family.
But I think the first five years were very difficult, and I also hated my dad and spent a lot of time feeling angry, because to me leaving Somalia wasn’t my choice, and personally that’s why my asylum was confused, was that you have to fit into a category of five. And I didn’t fit into any of them. Because to me, when they ask… “why are you here?” “My dad sent me.” “Why did your dad send you?” “Because he didn’t want me to get involved in the madness”. That doesn’t fit the box….. I was sent against my wish. I never saw anybody killed. My dad had this foresight. My dad is an avid news listener he had his ears open, he knows what’s happening. So he knew Somalia was going to kick right off. And he sold everything he owned and sent us away.
But I didn’t see it that way. I saw that he had just took the easy life and got rid of me. And also sent me to a country where I don’t understand the language or the culture so it wasn’t easy. So I just had to go and make peace in 1995, to go and see him and confront him and ask him why he did it, And he said, “I saved your life”. But to me it was like he ruined my life. He sent me to a place where I have been to prison. I have been to madness… It’s like countless…. have had suicidal thoughts. All kinds of stuff. Because it’s not easy to integrate. Because you are told to assimilate from the people and community you live around. But the community I lived around at that particular time where people who were involved in a lot of mad stuff, and I didn’t have any other choice. And I kind of hated it, but there was nowhere to run to and I came out stronger.
I can see that now, becoming a dad, I can see what my dad did, but I never thought it was very high morally, and I kind of hated him for many years after, and wanted to make him feel guilty – you just wanted an easy life getting rid of us- but I saw it from his perspective, he knew the country was going downhill. You do try to save your children, and so he saved the youngest two. He kept the oldest which made me even more angry- I was thinking I am the youngest you should have kept me. There’s one thing that my dad told me which I still disagree with him about, even though he is kind of adamant. He said every parent knows his children, and he said “your eldest brother, he never would have survived like you would have” and I thought, how do you know, how can you tell that. And he says, because I know my children- he needs more support. So that’s the reason he gave, but I just don’t buy it. But I think he’s my oldest brother how can he be weaker than me. So I kind of resented that.
With the British passport, I was kind of entitled to it in 1992 and never applied for it . I think in a way I kind of self-sabotaged myself, because to me I never accepted this journey. I didn’t want to be here, and when I tried to explain to people, some people say how ungrateful – and you know I am not ungrateful. To me, it was a journey that was planned for me, it wasn’t something I had planned myself, and I didn’t come here to get a British passport. And a lot of people say to me, your wife is British, your children are British, why are you not British? But it’s up here [points at forehead]. And also I have this fear….what if I change my nationality, and then Somalia becomes better, and they say well, we don’t want you. And I always had this idea that I would go home. And I still have that somewhere, and it’s getting to a point when I only realise when I go there how I have changed. I have this romantic idea one day I will go and live there, but when I go there I find I am used to systems, and things, and the bus coming when to supposed to, and I get irritated about things and people say “oh relax Abdi, what’s wrong with you” and I say no you shouldn’t relax. Things should work. And I think people there are more relaxed. It’s not as urgent and there’s no rush to go anywhere.
Abdi Ali in Go Between at the Young Vic. Photo by Jordan Lee.
How did you learn English? Just from the people around you?
I have never been to school. The only formal education I have had is only about 2 or 3 years in my entire life. I have learned it all myself. When I lived in the squat there were a lot of clever people in there, and they helped me a lot and taught me how to… and you can tell by the fact the way I write and the way I speak are very different. And a lot of people when I talk to them are like “what university did you go to” and I say I never even went to college let alone university. Because I have been here 27 years you know, and you know I think what helped me was because I travelled most of my life, and I like spoke different languages, so it’s easy to learn languages.
And what made you take part in Go Between?
I was working at St Mungo’s and I met John, and he told me he was doing this project, and he thought I might enjoy it so that’s why I came– and I have always liked theatre. When I worked for Nacro, we used to get a lot of tickets from this small theatre in Shepherds Bush, The Bush, and we used to go there with some of the young people I used to work with and I kind of enjoyed it, I really enjoyed it. I want to do more – I think it helped me in terms of my confidence and stuff like that. It’s good, I enjoyed it.
How did you find telling some of your story on stage?
I am constantly telling people. I never stop talking about it. My missus tells me Abdi, we have had enough of your stories. Let’s talk about something else.
And yeah it’s not… in a way it’s therapeutic to talk about it and get it out.
Refugee Week runs 19 – 25 June 2017. Find out more about the events going on in your neighbourhood. #OurSharedFuture