It showcases six stories to reflect and inspire. Curated by journalist and playwright Eleanor Ross, this pilot project will run over two nights, Tuesday 19 and Wednesday 20 June. Here's a blog by Eleanor Ross about the exciting, UNFOLDED.
The unfolding of UNFOLDED
“Come into my tent,” the man said. This was before the camera crews had descended on Calais, before it had become a place for news anchors to point at, to show they were in the field. This was when the first wave of refugees were being knocked back from jumping on the lorries night after night. “I want to tell you a story.”
Inside the tent was a bundle of cloth. I glanced at it and looked back at the man, nervous and on edge. A foreign affairs journalist, my training had taught me not to climb into tents with strangers. But then the pile of cloth began to move and the man pulled back the edges of the material.
“Their mothers died. We took them, me and my brother, and we keep them safe.” Under the blankets were two tiny children, no older than four. Simply having the kids meant this man’s journey to England was made significantly harder, but still he took them in. And no publication would take the story.
“We have too many refugee stories. Our pages are full.”
My stories about abuse, rape and refugee mental health all found homes. I reported from the Middle East to the Arctic, covering stories of migration. But no-one would take a story about this man’s gesture of kindness. Over the next two years I still enjoyed journalism but I realised the sort of human-centric stories I sought out as a journalist didn’t get enough ‘clicks’ anymore, and I began to think about other ways to convey these simple gestures and moments. The only medium that probably could was theatre - the power of words and gesture in an intimate setting was what these stories needed.
I was lucky enough to meet a smashing group of people at the National Theatre on a playwriting course earlier this year. We shared a passion for theatre and a love of great writing, but we were all just starting out.
Maybe it was thinking about that man in the tent in Calais, but a week before the course finished I just knew I wanted to try writing for theatre full time. It’s a long held dream to create a space to share the stories of those with no platforms. As a brand new writer, who would take my work? So I asked around the group and I offered (with the significant help of Ana Torre) to put on a new writing night. The Bread and Roses Theatre kindly let us take over their stage for two evenings and we’re excited to be presenting two nights of really interesting drama (I think!), all with a political and relevant edge.
Although some of the best writing out there right now is family-focused (The Ferryman and DH Lawrence’s revival at the Arcola spring to mind), writing family-based pieces has always been challenging for me. Every play I’ve written has been based in a surrogate family setting, a community that becomes a family, from an LGBT gang, to the army, to a homeless shelter. I wanted Unfolded to reflect that, and all the playwrights have brought really strong ideas of family to the table.
Florence Espeut-Nickless is an incredibly talented actor, and she’s written and performing a monologue that sparks with life and energy about growing up in rural poverty, identity, and friendship. She describes D.E.S.T.I.N.Y as a “relentless, bombastic revealing of life on a rural south-west council estate. A story of a girl born below the breadline, desperate to see beyond the walls of her neighbourhood and find hope in hopelessness.” The first time we heard it as a group, none of us knew what to say as her writing and talent for storytelling blew anything we’d heard before out of the water.
Carley J Hallman’s work Bulldogs is also a stunner – it focuses on two frat boys two years out of college trying to find their place in the world after one of them is wheelchair bound during a party gone wrong. Kurt and Bradley seek to resurrect their glory days--but lies, old jealousies, a jar of birthday peanut butter, and some very bad telenovelas stand in their way. It’s brilliantly sharp and is a light look at toxic masculinity.
Like Carley’s piece, Ankita Saxena’s play is also set in a self-constructed family, this time focusing on the plight of domestic workers in India. It’s based on the true story of a domestic worker enslaved by the mistress of the house, and examines the issues with India’s caste system.
Charlie Prelle’s piece is a short monologue about being at the epicentre of power as the protagonist begins to wake up to the mad reality he’s in.
Ana Torre’s self-contained extract is the only one of the evening that looks at a real family, rather than a constructed one, but it’s no less interesting. When Nadia goes missing, sister Alejandra moves heaven and earth to find her. The story shows her struggles with sexuality and belonging in an inherent misogynistic and homophobic Mexican society.
As for my contribution to the new writing night, I wanted to include an extract from a longer play I’ve written about LGBTQ refugees. It’s set in a detention centre “near-Swindon”, and although it’s not verbatim, it’s based on real testimony from refugees who were asked to prove their homosexuality to the UK’s Home Office. This could include sharing Grindr screenshots or pictures or videos of sexual acts, and it’s a play about consent, humiliation, control and love.
I think theatre has to be about more than just entertainment. It has to have something new to say, whether that’s the language it’s written in or the topic its covering. As a journalist, whenever I used to pitch an editor a story they used to ask me “Why now? Why should our readers care about this story now, this second?” I ask the same of myself when I write, and thought hard about those two words when curating this evening too.
There are plenty of spaces and stages for tense family dramas and plays about self-awareness and realisation. But I liked the idea of creating a stage-magazine, of stories we should be thinking about but are hard to find an “in” to.
Hopefully, if all goes well, Unfolded will do just that.
June 19 - 20, 7.30 pm
An evening of shorts stories.
by Carly Hillman & SkyeHillgartner
Noida, Sector 78
by Ankita Saxena
Jackal Yeh Goad Me
by Eleanor Ross
A Close Personal Advisor to -
by Charles Prelle
Don't Walk Alone At Night
by Ana Torre
by Florence Espeut-Nickless