The rendezvous was made; a meeting with others. The night was dark and dank as the drizzle stormed down on our gathering. Black Gothic gates barred our entrance to the large stone building. We waited patiently. We were all strangers, curious about what lay ahead. We didn’t know just what to expect.
At last, the clanking sounds came of the gates being opened; we were told to assemble in straight lines. It was almost as though we were awaiting some sort of detention duty. A loud cry went out as another person came scrambling out of the darkness crying “My child, please see to my child” as uniformed personnel rushed around, issuing orders for us to enter asking questions “Were you followed? How many? Are there any more?” “My wife, my child” were the only words that the man managed to utter within his sadness. Lost in explanation, a large door began to open to a warehouse type area; as one, we were herded into its vast inner sanctum.
Slowly, we became aware of our surroundings. We came under an incredible amount of scrutiny from a multitude of people, and saw children huddled together in one corner, as if afraid of our arrival. “We have a few supplies and blankets, please share the blankets” the voice on the speaker announced. Some people came forward as if on a welcoming bid, imploring details about the outside. The man and child were rushed to an enclosed area with a Red Cross embellished on it.
“For fear of disease” the voice continued “you will have to be examined. Your photograph will be taken, a detailed form will need to be completed; you will then be assigned a number “.
The air was stifling; people were talking wildly about their relatives and whether anyone of us knew anything about them. Hands were inspected and washed; we were each issued with toiletry samples. The siren shrieked shattering our thoughts, as the lights dimmed
“Get down and remain still!” the urgent command drilled.
We all lay prone on the hard floor using the blankets provided.
Repeated blows on the door followed as security personnel entered, they were looking for certain people, but received only a stony silence. A child cried out in pain “There is nothing we can do” a medic announced as the man walked aimlessly around.
Fear held us in its grasp. Notices on the wall were adorned with desperate messages; missing people cried out to be found. You could almost reach out and touch the growing mania of panic and distress of what we were all witnessing.
This was an experience that we had not only watched; we had participated in a human drama.
“You’ve got a swarm of people coming, seeking a better life” A play had been performed but we were also the actors, the performance may disappear but the crisis of the refugees would not go away. It was an experience driven by conflict, of painful human reality of what is actually happening. The play was called ‘The Swarm’; the company were the Fio Productions and it was staged at the Pop Factory, Porth.
It was not a tale of the unexpected. At its conclusion it was a diverse platform for the further discussion of ethical and political issues.
The truth hurts.
As we congregate outside Butetown History and Arts Centre, our identity stripped back to little more than the number in our hand, Fio invite us to consider what life might be like if we were forced to leave everything we know and love behind in order to escape war and violence.
Civil war has broken out in the West. People are dying at the hands of the dictatorship and escape is the only option. The East can provide opportunities for some, but the fast track is only available to those with the right papers and the desired skills and experience. With our social media and newspapers plastered with news and images of mass migration to Europe, it is this reversal of roles which makes Swarm particularly interesting, directly provoking the audience to consider ‘What happens if this happened to us?’
“You’ve got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life” David Cameron, July 2015
A defining feature of the media narrative surrounding immigration has undoubtedly been that of the dehumanisation of migrants. Swarm captures this brilliantly through Cara Jayne Readle’s portrayal of a Media Representative, reporting on the ongoing tragedy in the war struck west for the no doubt passive consumption of those back home.
As we are herded into the overcrowded transit centre where we wait to be processed, tensions run high amongst overstretched medical staff. Natalie Edward-Yesufu’s heart-breaking performance of a young nurse as she struggles with her feelings of hopelessness to change the devastating tragedy around her and the possibility of hope and a new life in the East.
As we navigate our way through the building certain aspects of the set create a particular degree of poignancy; a section of Ruth Stringer’s #2868 boats installation, a paper boat to represent the life of every Syrian refugee drowned or missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far in 2016; children’s colourings created by members of the community cast as part of the performance created on pieces of paper bearing statistics of the unbelievable scale of death and devastation that the East has faced; screens with images of the horrifying conditions migrants face and the overplay of refugee voices all add to this already captivating narrative which examines how people in these situations are forced to act and interact with the circumstances placed upon them.
This timely and poignant site-specific performance reminds us, if we really needed reminding, that this is a human crisis.
Cast: Mathew David, Christina Dembenezi, Natalie Edward-Yesufu, Natalie Paisey, Cara Jayne Readle
Director: Abdul Shayek
Assistant Director: Chantal Erraoui
Producer: Alan Humphreys
Designer: Lizzie French
Stage Manager: Katie Bingham
Filmaker: Kym Epton
Community Cast: Jasmine Camilleri, Sahara Camilleri, Tia Camilleri, Josie Harding, Mira Lukawiecka, Stefan Lukawiecki, Donna Males, Geraint Stewart-Davies, Ananya Upadhyaya, Ayushi Upadhyaya, Akram Yasseen, Amani Yasseen.