As soon as the show is over, the school boys watching crick their necks and stretch their legs, listing off the bits of their bodies that have pins and needles and the various ways in which they hurt. We Come from Far, Far Away is an uncomfortable experience: the audience are closely packed into a yurt, mostly sitting on the floor, backs bent and heads upstretched, for the best part of an hour. Like Theatre-Rites’ The Welcoming Party, We Come from Far, Far Away communicates the refugee experience by immersing us in it, both spatially and physically.
NIE’s production was developed through working with Hvalstad Transittmottak, the first reception point for young refugees aged 13-18 who have arrived alone to claim asylum in Norway. It is based on the story of one boy and his friend, and told with humour, energy and hope using live music, puppets and storytelling.
There are some shows that take the weight off your shoulders – in the inky blackness of the auditorium, watching a musical or a farce or whatever, you are hidden from your responsibilities for a while. And there are some shows, like We Come from Far, Far Away, that provide no cover: in raising awareness of its subject, the production makes the audience accountable for their response.
So, at least for me, the feeling of discomfort at the show’s close wasn’t only the product of the cramped conditions: I also felt uneasy about my own response. For an hour I sat and watched and did nothing, just like I sit watching the news or letting the stories scroll up and away from my fingers and consciousness on Twitter. Then afterwards, in my mind, I called the production ‘enjoyable’ and ‘successful’; I compared it to other shows I’ve seen exploring the same topic; I started to think about the first line of my review. I was ready to sum the experience up and tidy it away into the recesses of my brain. But if I’m content to sit idly by when faced with the experiences this play is based on, why should the one thing I actually do be to judge how the story of a young refugee is told?
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