Skip to main content

Publicity image for the Summerworks production of The Container by Clare Bayley.

Handout

It's dark, it's cramped, it's suffocating and it's not usually the best place to hold a theatre production.

But for one playwright, a shipping container was the ideal stage for her play exploring the challenges and determination of refugees who make terrifying journeys in search of a better life.

Clare Bayley's The Container, performed inside a 20-foot shipping container that can seat less than two dozen people, aims to force the audience to confront the human stories behind statistics about refugees and human smuggling by squeezing them right into actors' space.

Story continues below advertisement

The play follows five illegal migrants on the last leg of a strenuous journey to England and their dealings with a mysterious Agent they've paid to smuggle them across Europe. It was first presented at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and went on to win several awards.

"The audience (is)…not sitting on the outside and looking at the characters and judging them. They're really going on that journey with them," said Ms. Bayley, a U.K. playwright whose provocative play made its Canadian premiere last week in Toronto at SummerWorks Performance Festival. Directed by Zachary Florence (Gwen Powers) and starring Bola Aiyeola ('Da Kink in My Hair) and Lara Arabian (Hallaj), the play runs until Aug. 17.

When she saw the debate surrounding an influx of refugees playing out in England several years ago, Ms. Bayley felt there was too much emphasis on numbers: how many were coming in, how much it cost the country, how many entered illegally. She wrote The Container in an attempt to balance the conversation.

Sabrina Bandali, a lawyer and producer of the play's SummerWorks production, felt the same disconnect from human realities with Canada's responses to refugees entering the country, such as the health-care cuts for failed claimants and refugees from countries deemed safe by the government. A federal court ruled last month that policy was unconstitutional and a form of "cruel and unusual treatment."

"We tend to wring our hands and worry about what happens when people get here," Ms. Bandali said. "We don't spend a lot of time thinking about the experience of making the journey."

She said the play doesn't aim to sway people to a particular side of the debate, but present the audience a complex depiction of real refugees and what motivates them to leave their homes.

"The characters are strong, resilient, clever people faced with impossible odds," Ms. Bandali said. "(They) are not angels, but they're not necessarily villains either."

Story continues below advertisement

A few weeks ahead of opening night, The Container's cast and crew met with refugees at Romero House, an organization that offers housing and support to refugees in Toronto, to get a better sense of their experiences and emotions.

They heard from Ilamaran Nagarasa, a journalist who arrived in Canada from Sri Lanka on a boat with 75 other asylum seekers in 2009 after facing death threats for reporting on the country's deadly civil war. The incident made headlines at the time.

During the 45-day journey to Canada, Mr. Nagarasa said the refugees encountered eight storms.

"While the storm was happening, the Hindus and the Christians, we were praying together," he said. "That kind of real human spirit is needed in the world."

Ms. Arabian, who plays an Afghan girls' teacher on the run for her life, said her own Armenian grandparents fled to Syria and Lebanon to escape persecution in Turkey.

"We don't hear these stories enough and yet in Toronto they are everywhere," she said.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter