The Container packages the refugee experience for Toronto audiences
The Container, part of SummerWorks, Canada’s largest juried and curated festival of multi-disciplinary art, gives audiences a taste of what its like to be smuggled across Europe as a refugee.
“Those of us who live here don’t think about what it takes to get here,” says Zachary Florence the show’s director.
The play is an immersive theatre experience that takes place in a shipping container. Audiences are sat side by side with the cast as they journey through an imaginary trip that takes them from Turkey to England in the back of a truck as asylum seekers.
The space inside the container is oppressively hot, claustrophobic and charged with tension, keeping the audience at the edge of their seat for the entire hour. The script and direction are seamless and the performances electric. The multi-racial cast expertly slides from English to Pashto to Turkish and Somali, without ever compromising meaning or losing the focus of the audience.
Although the play is about a group of people in a desperate situation. The characters are not victimized.
“The play puts a human face on some of the toughest choices that people have to make,” says Florence.
There is no sentimentalism in this complicated pieces about five believable characters faced with difficult life and death choices. At times they represent the generosity of the human experience at others they display cruelty and greed.
In producing the play, the cast worked in partnership with Romero house, a home and community centre for refugees in Toronto’s west end. The cast was given the chance to hear the real-life stories of refugees who risked everything to travel to Canada for a better life.
“I never made a show that’s more connected to it’s community,” says Florence, who rehearsed the play in an alleyway behind The Theatre Centre in Toronto’s Parkdale. A neighbourhood known for its high population of newcomers.
For some of the members of the cast the conversations with real refugees was an eye-opening experience, but Lara Arabian, who plays the role of Mariam, a teacher from Afghanistan, has her own family story to draw from.
“I dedicated my performance to my family they are Syrian refugees stuck in limbo,” says Arabian.
“I spoke to my aunt and cousins three times a week during the production of the show, they were all so excited about the play,” says Arabian whose aunt died in Aleppo before the play’s opening.
Arabian says she’s thrilled to be part of a play that helps to open the conversation about refugees.
“I want people to think that this is not just something that impacts people over there – it is really all around us.”
The Container was written by British playwright Clare Bayley and originally staged as part of the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.
Sabrina Bandali, who produced the piece for SummerWorks, says although the play is set in Europe, it has many implications for audiences in Toronto. She points to cases before the Court this past December where refugee claimants were denied asylum because they participated or contributed to their own smuggling.
“It is time to take the blinders off,” says Bandali, “Lets start the conversation on how we are dealing with refugees here in Canada.”