Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Based on the experiences of an Eritrean refugee, Still Here documents the journey of an Eritrean man as he fled persecution, and the journey of the British girl who interviewed him in the Calais refugee camp on December 21st 2015.
Just before Christmas 2015 a young women went to the Calais with a group from her home church in Bristol – they had a contact in the Eritrean church in the jungle. There she met a man who told her his story. ‘Do you mind if I record you?’ she asked. He agreed, more than agreed, he said he wanted the world to know his story. She promised to bring his story back.
In a rather cold tent in the grounds of St Mary’s cathedral you can hear that story juxtaposed with that of the young woman, Rachel Partington, who came back and teamed up with fellow students at the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol to create Still Here. The night I saw it, it rained, a constant patter on the tent which only added to the sense of immersion in the story. Partington (who also transcribed the interview and wrote the additional material) plays herself with Afolabi Alli as the unknown man; together with Jac Bayliss (composer and actormuso) and Emily Bradley (actormuso and puppeteer).
The set is simple, a rough two level stage with scaffolding and the cast use a simple range of common items to create props and additional characters. This, together with Sarah Bradley’s understated direction and use of shape and movement created by the cast, serve to focus our attention entirely on the narrative.
Partington shares her vulnerability as well her determination as she travels to the camp and her first impressions before finding the Eritrean group they sought. The rest of the cast move fluidly in and out of the story providing images or movement that supports the telling of the story.
Alli plays the unnamed man, fleeing Eritrea where the current regime sees Christians as ‘agents of the West’. Believers have been imprisoned in horrific conditions in their thousands – some are kept in metal shipping containers in scorching temperatures, others are forced to work long hours doing manual labour. He tells his story haltingly, verbatim from the transcript, and is utterly convincing. Bradley and Bayley provide music composed for the piece. All four perform with a naturalness that serves to reinforce that we are hearing a true story.
It is deceptively simple piece that carries a profound story. It relates the journeys of two ordinary people: one black, one white; one male, one female; one poor, one rich; one who travelled thousands of miles alone uncertain of the future, one who came 200 miles with friends and a home to return to – to meet in a cold, wet, muddy place and share their stories.
And one that is well worth the journey to St Mary’s Cathedral grounds in Palmerston Place to see.
Jungle statistics: this was the current situation in Calais in July
47 new arrivals each day
761 children, the youngest one 4 months old
608 unaccompanied minors, the youngest one 8 years old