One of the last times I was at Camden People's Theatre was for E15, a show about vulnerable mothers in Newham who are being rehoused outside of the capital. This week the venue has been home to Strawberry Blonde Curls Theatre's show. With its use of verbatim theatre, its themes of the displacement of women and challenging the practices of the status quo, it certainly complements previous productions that highlight the plight of vulnerable women. Written by Rosie MacPherson and directed by Hannah Butterfield, Tanja tells the story of a woman, one of many who are 'housed' at Yarl's Wood detention centre in Befordshire for female asylum seekers.
In the lead role is Emily Ntshangase-Wood, a former resident of Yarl's Wood and it is through her relating her own experiences that the play retains its authenticity and power. MacPherson – whose play Inside two years ago broached the harrowing subject of an abducted teenager – tackles this difficult subject with deftness, giving the subject an immediacy without it being didactic.
The show itself is 'knowingly' a reconstruction of past and ongoing events as opposed to reality itself, which diffuses some of the inherent tension regarding suspension of disbelief. However the compact, intimate set conveys Tanja's claustrophobic surroundings, with the camera and the security guards taking the modicum of space available.
Her simple observations of the sterile, cold environment – a place where women are interned indefinitely – brings home how isolated and neglected the women are, though the external protestors who are heard periodically, provide a glimmer of hope and solidarity for Tanja and the other incarcerated women. As the audience leaves the show, one phrase used resonates: "Human beings aren't illegal." Indeed...
© Michael Davis 2016
Tanja ran at Camden People's Theatre 11-13 October 2016 as part of its nationwide tour. It will be performed again at ARC, Stockton Arts Centre, Dovecot St, Stockton-on-Tees TS18 1LL on 20 October.