Students from Leyton Sixth Form College will perform their self-devised, hard-hitting Refugee drama No Human is Illegal to an invited audience of Parliamentarians in Mr Speaker’s Chambers on Tuesday 6th February.
The show, directed by drama teacher Katy Arnell, was the only play in the under 18s category to be selected for the National Student Drama Festival in Hull this summer. It went on to be performed at Barnabas Arts Centre, Newport where it was seen by local MP Paul Flynn who was so impressed that he invited the students to Parliament.
No Human is Illegal takes no prisoners in its approach to the Refugee crisis and attitudes to migration in Parliament, the Press and beyond. In 40 minutes of energetic devised action we see and hear impassioned responses to scenes of horror and devastation in Aleppo and elsewhere. These teenagers are not afraid to call out injustice and lazy moral relativism.
Leyton Sixth Form, in the heart of East London, serves the young people of Waltham Forest and surrounding boroughs, among the most ethnically diverse areas in the country. The young cast fully reflects this diversity, with the overwhelming majority coming from BAME backgrounds and nearly all being migrants of first, second or third generation.
Ensemble member Ermelinda Rodrigues is a case in point. Born in Portugal to parents from Guinea-Bissau, she arrived in London aged 10. The production was the first time Ermelinda really thought about the issue of refugees and the consequences of UK foreign policy. Like many of her peers, she found it all too easy to turn a blind eye to the news. “Now it’s a huge part of my life” she says.
Katy Arnell, the teacher who brought everything together, was initially taken aback by her students’ lack of exposure: “When devising theatre you often begin with a stimulus from which you can generate ideas and material. I presented the students with an image of The Jungle in Calais. The students had never seen this image before, neither did they know anything about the refugee crisis. The students that I teach come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, many of them are migrants themselves, yet they were oblivious the harsh reality of the current global crisis that I presented to them. I found this fascinating and this directly fed into the devising process”
The success of the performance took the students by surprise. After travelling to Hull (the first time outside of the M25 for many of the performers) and then Newport, news of a performance in the hallowed surroundings of Mr Speakers Chambers was greeted with excitement. “Performing in Parliament means that our message will reach the rulers. It was meant to.”