#DigitalElegy Sat 30 May 2015
Elegy is Transport’s first digital project, an audio version of our award-winning play. It marks the end of a four-year journey. Elegy is a play inspired by interviews with gay Iraqi refugees who fled mass killings in their homeland. It was originally devised in 2011 - It was our first show. It came about whilst I was researching another show Invisible. I found a web article by photojournalist Bradley Secker who had interviewed gay Iraqi refugees in Syria. I knew nothing about the situation – there had been no major news coverage at that time and I was stunned that minorities were being targeted and killed in a country that we had ‘liberated’; it is now more difficult to be gay in Iraq than it was under Saddam Hussein. Our projects always have hidden narratives at their heart. We make beautiful and compelling theatre that platforms the experiences of those that we may not see or know about. Theatre engages audiences with difficult stories that they may not otherwise normally experience. Through the actor/audience experience we are more predisposed (given the right tools) to imagine anything – to go further – to put ourselves more fully in someone else’s shoes. Elegy is about that - engendering empathy with and an understanding of the gay refugee experience whilst also feeling more alive for doing so.
The project started in a disused shop in the heart of the Creative Quarter in Folkestone, Kent. It happened because of a generous offer made by Mariann Wenckheim, who asked me if there was a project that I needed some help with funding. I rehearsed for four weeks working with the actor Jamie Bradley. The main touchstone is Bradley Secker’s photo essay but there are other sources including: Unspeakable Love by Brian Whitaker, Gay Travels in the Muslim World by Michael Luongo, Riverbend’s blog Baghdad Burning, a poem by Hoshang Merchant, The Illness of Exile from the book Human Cargo, reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Stonewall and various newspaper articles covering the situation in Iraq, Syria and the experiences of migrants and refugees who left their countries to secure a better life. I spoke to Amnesty International, UK Gay and Lesbian Immigration Group, with migrants and campaigners in Calais and have had candid Skype conversations with Bisam, a gay Iraqi refugee now in Canada... and Bradley Secker has always been there along the way. Some of the play is imagined - our character’s early experiences of growing up gay are based on our own and are also those of Bisam. When I conceived Elegy I was anxious about authenticity. I felt that we could never fully understand or realise the lives and experiences on stage of those we had read about or spoken to. This anxiety gave the piece its form – it is an elegy - a poem for lives lost or those in exile. It is also a love letter – it is performed by a British actor and spoken in the third person – it is an enquiry into universality - for it to touch and speak to many. Elegy premiered at the Quarterhouse Folkestone as part of Folkestone Fringe and then Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2011. It was revived for runs at Theatre503 (2012) and the Vault Festival (2015) and toured the UK and Europe. Along the way it won critical and audience praise winning a Royal National Theatre Playwright Award and a Fringe First and two Off West End Award nominations. It has since received a critically acclaimed Spanish language production in Madrid and will receive a production in Australia.
Four years later, the violence has deepened, worsened… In 2014 and 2015 reports came out of Iraq and now Syria suggesting that the killings of minorities by extremist militia groups and now ISIS had intensified, that the extremist killings may even be government backed. What with a growing anti-asylum-seeker sentiment in the UK, it felt timely to revive Elegy and for it reach as wide an audience as possible, here in the UK and abroad - so a digital release seemed appropriate. I don’t think it loses much from being transposed into a digital medium, it becomes something else, something more intimate – more intense.
Elegy will be available as a free download during Refugee Week 15 – 21 June 2015 from www.transport-theatre.eu/elegy. We’re excited that this version of the play performed by the brilliant Adam Best (UK Theatre Award Nomination for Best Actor & Winner of Critics' Award for Theatre in Scotland 2014, Best Male Performance), with music composed by Raymond Yiu (winner of BASCA British Composer Award) and sound design by Helen Atkinson (winner of Irish Times Theatre Award for Best Sound Design on Ballyturk), has the potential to reach a whole new audience.
Download it and spread the word www.transport-theatre.eu/elegy #DigitalElegy #RefugeeWeek
Artistic Director of Transport
Transport is a national touring theatre company based in Folkestone, Kent. Through collaboration they produce ensemble led theatre, telling touching stories that affect all. They are Quarterhouse Folkestone and New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich associates as well as resident creatives at Hackney Empire, London. They will tour a new piece ‘The Edge’ about coastal communities and climate change this autumn.
Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary. Anyone can take part by organising, attending or taking part in activities. www.refugeeweek.org.uk
Douglas Rintoul is the Artistic Director of Transport. His freelance credits include work at Hampstead Theatre, the Barbican, Unicorn Theatre, Watermill Theatre, Trafalgar Studios, Dundee Rep Theatre, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, National Theatre Studio, Salisbury Playhouse, New Wolsey Theatre, Creation, Central School of Speech and Drama, and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was associate director at Salisbury Playhouse for 2 years and is also a long-standing associate director to Simon McBurney/Complicite and an assistant and associate director to Deborah Warner. He won a prestigious Regional Theatre Director Scheme bursary and an Esmeé Fairbairn Regional Theatre Initiative award.
Jamie Bradley (Edinburgh Fringe 2011), Sam Phillips (Theatre503 2012), Adam Best (VAULTFestival 2015).