TNT discusses ‘Refugee Boy’ stage adaptation with Lemn Sissay


Usually, when a novel is adapted for the stage, the best indicator of its success from page to “Action” is how wide its poignant rippling lessons reach; essentially, is the world a better place or not because of it?

The stage adaptation of Refugee Boy – the novel written by Benjamin Zephaniah – adapted for the stage by Mancunian author and official London Olympic Poet, Lemn Sissay MBE, emotionally lit up Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, Manchester with humour, tears and lessons dispelling myths & misconceptions about refugees.

TNT took part in the discussion involving Lemn and the entire cast after the show about; the play’s production process, its journey so far and most importantly how effective it has been in raising awareness about the plight of refugees and their heartbreaking journeys.

The story’s protagonist, Alem Kelo played by Fisayo Akinade, takes us on a journey about arriving, belonging and finding a home in London, as a fourteen year old African refugee boy with an Ethiopian father and Eritrean mother. The stage, aptly set with suitcases as makeshift stairs, seats and beds, brings the novel’s setting to life, whilst Kelo and the rest of the cast movingly tell of the challenges faced by young asylum applicants from court hearings to children’s homes to friendships and foster families.

“The play, initially produced by the West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYPH), took two years to come on stage”, Akinade said. It has since had a UK tour, which earned it great reviews nationwide from theatres and the media.

What is pertinent is that “the play is central to the outreach work WYPH is doing with the refugee charities assisting asylum seekers within the areas toured”, Lemn mentions when asked about the adaptation’s rippling effects.

He also added that “WYPH has been awarded the first ever ‘Theatre Of Sanctuary’ in the world, meaning all asylum seekers will get free tickets for its shows.” By this alone, the novel’s move from page to stage has been successful.

Not only has the play been seen by over 10,000 people in theatres nationwide within two months; but in the Oxford Playhouse, two officers from Campsfield (one of the largest detention centres for asylum seekers in the UK) came to watch it – something unprecedented and what’s shocking is that these officers, although employed at the centre, had no idea of what asylum seekers go through.

So these things happened because the play happened. In terms of legacy, WYPH will gather the results of the workshops and events from the different cities toured and assess how best to continue the work with asylum seekers, organisations and the Home Office.

TNT Theatre Yasin Chinembiri

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