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Afghan child refugee play stirs consciences at Avignon
Au delà du forêt, le Monde (Beyond the Forest, the World) reflects concerns about the treatment of child refugees whose lives are in danger at home and then again on their journey to safety. The play jolts the conscience and helps grown-ups and children understand their plight.
In the White Penitents Chapel two French actresses tell the story of Farid, an ordinary Afghan boy who survives conflict at home after his father is killed and his home raided.
With courage and good sense, Farid makes it to England against the odds. The actresses play storytellers, teachers, the boy's mother and uncle, human traffickers, police, themselves. And us.
Ines Barahona and Miguel Fregata composed the play from stories of child refugees and other research.
They provide the background of 12 year-old Farid's family and Pashtun culture and explain simply how civilians are caught up in international wars. They tell the story of his mainly traumatic and courageous journey to England. When she sends him and his brother Reza away, his mother explains that they will be safe there. However, to get to the UK Farid risks his life more than once and loses his passport, his official identity.
The actresses' tones and moods are constantly changing, limiting the didactic voice to prevent news-conscious adults ho-humming. They ask questions, and then, as parents often do, realises that geopolitical and history questions about a faraway country are getting too complicated to handle. Yet these questions are raised because they are in many cases the reasons that cause people to become refugees, or in Europe and the US at present, illegal migrants.
Anchored in reality
Miguel Fregata says it was imperative that the 50-minute play remain anchored in reality.
"For example, there is a moment in the play when the two actresses stop in Istanbul where they have tea, they are looking at us, talking about us," he says. "It brings us to a state of awareness of being here together. But anything they may be talking about becomes absolutely ironical. It may be a bit cynical when compared to this ordeal."
Ines Barahona says their aim is to attain empathy to alert grown-ups and help the little ones to understand who refugees are.
"We wanted the audience to really be in the shoes of Farid," she explains. "Then each person has their own feelings, their own opinions, their own way to look at it. But to go through this experience with him is so strong I'm sure it will help to reflect on this question."
The story is illustrated on stage with the help of a big carpet, fascinating suitcases, filled with money or with the sea, with toy trucks, and even with a bomb, which in comedy style is carried by a panicking player so it goes off with a bang and a blast of white smoke offstage.
Meanwhile, the spectators contemplate an oversized map backdrop which shows the route from Afghanistan to England, via Iran, Turkey, Greece and the infamous, now dismantled migrant camp, known as the Jungle in the French Channel port of Calais.
The play is informative, entertaining and moving. While children in the audience may be captivated and amused by the stageplay, Barahona and Fragata's sentiment is not lost. Barahona confided that one child at the end of a performance got the message and said to her, "it's not human to live through these things. It's so violent."