Mandala Theatre Company: exploring Place, Identity and Belonging.

“The play 'Night Light' touched my heart. I just want everyone to know! I hope for the world to come to their senses and understand the way I do now.”  Pupil – King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds.

As a theatre maker I am moving into a time of transition, having just finished the last performance of Mandala Theatre Company's tour of 'Night Light' written by Nadia Davids and directed by me. A project that began my three year exploration of 'Place, Identity and Belonging', and which started in August 2015. The first year has been focusing on young people who want to belong in the UK but can't, and specifically unaccompanied children who come to the UK, age 11 or 12 years old, seeking sanctuary, and what happens to them when they turn 18.

Zakaria Zerouali as Taariq and Oliver Davis as Detention Centre Guard in 'Night Light' written by Nadia Davids and directed by Yasmin Sidhwa. Photograph: Fisher Studios;

Over the year that 'Night Light' has been developed and performed in 11 cities in the UK and Europe, I have worked with academic researchers, refugees, young people seeking asylum, those working in NGO's, local councillors and of course a huge and varied mix of audiences. The play has struck an emotional chord with these audiences in mono-cultured cities like Bury St Edmunds and in cities with a diverse cultural mix such as London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Bradford and also in Europe, in Grenoble and Heidelberg. In each city the company has had the privilege to talk with the audience in a panel debate, with local people on the panel, usually an academic, a refugee, an NGO 'expert' and a councillor.

Aimee Powell as Salma and Oliver Davis as Tom, in 'Night Light' written by Nadia Davids, directed by Yasmin Sidhwa. Photograph: Fisher Studios;


This is what theatre is to me, creating stories that look at the world we live in, making visible that which is invisible, challenging and questioning what is going on, but essentially inviting audiences to tap into their own empathy and stand in another's shoes. 'Night Light' is all about what is happening to young people at a time where the world's leaders are at odds with the needs of humanity, those who seek asylum in the West do so because they have been forced to leave their homes, and we who at this moment in time, have the chance to offer them sanctuary, need to stand up and make sure this happens.

Mandala Debate at Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, with Gul Zada, Elaine Chase, Yasmin Sidhwa, Roger Zetter, Zakaria Zerouali, Aimee Powell and Oliver Davis; Photograph: Fisher Studios;

This blog will explore the transition into the 2nd year of 'Place, Identity and Belonging', with the support of Testbeds, where this time I look at young people who do belong in the UK but feel disconnected from their communities, what is it that creates this disconnection in different communities? What are the consequences of this disconnection? What is it that makes young people in these same communities stay connected to them?