Tanja, by SBC Theatre, presented at the Lowry Studio, is a highly political piece looking at Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre for 400 female asylum seekers.  The privately run centre has never been far from controversy, both with regards to how it is run, and how it reflects current immigration policy.  Based on verbatim accounts, the dialogue is mainly performed by Emily Ntshangase-Wood, a former detainee, ‘whose inspiring story and similar stories of those who have been detained are at the heart of it’.

There is a line in the play, which is also in the promotional video, ‘you broke the ocean in half to be here, to find nothing that wants you, when will this waking nightmare ever end?’.  And yet, this is a play that is in essence hopeful.  There is a naivety to the outlook of many of the women, a feeling that ‘we are in the UK, this is a civilised land of opportunity and hope, why would the UK not allow us to stay after the horrors we have experienced elsewhere?’  They want to trust those who guard them; they want to trust those who decide whether they can stay.

SBC Theatre have done well to make this issue accessible, and use a combination of spoken word, poetry, physicality, drama and sign language to convey the complex messages in a way that helps us empathise with the situations in which these women find themselves.  To one side is a TV screen showing the image from a monitoring camera (with night vision), which is constantly present.  At times, the performers break out of the performance to briefly interact with each other, for example to achieve the correct level of aggression from the guard.  Emily herself is a completely engaging and authentic voice.

A country can be judged on its asylum record, and this production highlights the extent to which the UK falls very short.  These are very personal stories from women who have no option but to escape their home and seek refuge in another country.  An important and powerful production.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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