Compassion has no borders

October 8, 2018

Inspiration from the play The Jungle

Bruno Wang Productions and the Pureland Foundation are honoured to support critically acclaimed play The Jungle, produced by Good Chance Theatre. The Jungle was inspired by the experiences of a group of refugees and asylum seekers in the former migrant camp in Calais. In fact, many of the cast members are real-life refugees.

In this eye-opening piece of immersive theatre, directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, the audience is given a seat at the stranger’s table in the shape of the Afghan café, the beating heart of the original camp. The stalls have been removed from the Playhouse Theatre and in their place are benches and chairs, arranged around a huge table that doubles as a stage. The audience is made welcome by the greetings of the camp’s residents and the appetising aromas of the food.

When I asked Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, the founders of Good Chance Theatre, how their company got its name, they told me it was inspired by a phrase the refugees would use; every day they hope there is a “good chance” of having their asylum application approved to make it across the Channel to the UK.

On the particular day I went to see the production with a group of friends, the show was unexpectedly delayed. We were fidgeting, checking our watches impatiently: “What’s going on?” We couldn’t wait for the action to begin.

It dawned on me that this endless waiting and uncertainty was what the refugees experience daily in the camp. They are in limbo, powerless, their fate dependent on the decisions of strangers – yet sustained by hope.

Held in limbo

The play bears witness to the hardships endured, but it does not invite us to pass judgement. Its emotional reach lies in the window it affords into the lives of others. We see into their states of mind and come to understand their pain and sufferings.

From the ruthless human trafficker to 17-year-old Okot from Dafur, who declares that “a refugee dies many times”, we see the hard choices each must make to survive.

When the Syrian refugee Safi, the play’s narrator, finally loses his patience and decides to be smuggled to the UK, the “promised land” is not all he dreamed it would be. He is sad and disillusioned to find himself even lonelier than he was in the makeshift society of the Jungle. He is on the outside, looking in on a society he has dreamed of being a part of.

While we recognise the “otherness” represented by the refugees, we also recognise the commonalities: the need to belong, to love and be loved, the need to find home, a place where we can feel grounded, connected and grow.

What Safi says to the audience at the end of the show is heartbreaking in its sincerity: “Thank you for your hospitality. I hope one day to return it when you come to my country.” It brought tears to my eyes.

An act of love

Emma Thompson once said that it is only when we, as hosts, start to treat as equals those who seek out a home with us here in the UK that the healing can begin. To open our doors and welcome the stranger is an act of love.

We live in a global village. We are linked by fast internet connections, social media and easy travel. We share news and information at lightning speed. But such convenience doesn’t necessarily bring us closer. The incessant need to share may be a reflection of the underlying fear of loneliness. Deep down, all we want is to connect and feel included in a greater whole.

Many people have left the Playhouse Theatre asking, what can I do? Putting politics aside, one response would be that each of us might choose to listen to our deeper, compassionate selves that the play awakens.

Compassion is the first step to social inclusion. It breaks down fear of the outsider and enables us to welcome the dispossessed into our hearts and our communities.

Compassion knows no borders.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation