Response to Removal Men Open Letter

To whom it may concern,

Thank you for letter about our show Removal Men, which is currently running at The Yard Theatre.

The responses that the show has received have been complicated. When watching, the audience laugh, they cry, they feel sick, they feel alive. They feel disgusted. They feel bored. They feel angry. This was always our intention, and so, to some extent, I am relieved that the show has elicited your response. But I am sorry that you disagreed with some of the content. I descend from a family of refugees; if 50 years ago, our country had then the impenetrable borders it has now, then I would not be alive. It was this thought, it was this feeling, that prompted the making of the show. We live in a time when our compassion has been desensitised, when our culture’s capacity for empathy is negligible, and when the meaning of love has never been so fragmented. I consider it a theatre’s job to reflect these problems back to an audience. The show reveals that the characters who use words like ‘compassion’, ‘empathy’ and ‘love’, are part of a world that has corrupted their meaning. Removal Men argues the following: 'words that should prompt positive change in today’s society, are now doing precisely the opposite, they are desensitising our responses to abuse.'

You are right that art has a role to play in the revealing of hidden stories in contemporary culture. This year we have had on our stage as part of our core programme:

ReHome, a story about gentrification in East London, created by Cressida Brown.
Made Visible, a story about racial privilege, written by Deborah Pearson and directed by Stella Odunlami.
House and Amongst The Reeds by Somalia Seaton and Chino Odimba, directed by Roisin Murphy, produced by Clean Break.
Cuttin’ It, a story about female circumcision in British culture (recently won the Evening Standard award for Most Promising Playwright), written by Charlene James and directed by Gbolahan Obisesan.
Pilgrims, written by Elinor Cook, directed by Tamara Harvey

Our work, in different ways, gives a voice to artists who need to be heard. They need to be heard because they communicate important, contemporary ideas. We are proud of the artists we support in our programme, whose work is radical in both form and content.

You are right that the decision to not represent the detainee in Removal Men is problematic. Deliberately so. We made this decision because the women who have suffered this abuse do not have a voice in contemporary culture. It is a mirroring. And this is where I think we are likely to most disagree. I do not think that art has a role to solely represent the ‘right’ stories. Art sometimes needs to represent the truth, as ugly as it is. I do not think that art can only be journalistic when presenting contemporary culture. Art has a role to summon opinions, to summon feelings that are difficult, queasy, and consciously problematic. Art can do more than represent the problem. Art can do more than illicit agreement. Art can make people disagree, feel angry and confused and then reflect on their own role within the structures they see recreated before them. For example, before Removal Men, Pilgrims played in our theatre. A play written by Elinor Cook, and directed by Tamara Harvey, it is a play set in a domestic setting, and shows a woman trying to reclaim her narrative. A metaphor about how women’s stories are eroded by a patriarchal society. It was a brilliant metaphorical playing out of a problem. Similar to Removal Men, in that both shows take a big issue, and create a metaphor to explore the problem. Except in Removal Men we ask how a system of abuse and domination erodes compassion, love and meaning. Promoting positive change does not only need to come from the naturalistic communication of the problem.

Every day our news feeds are dominated by images of suffering. Twenty first century journalism can creep into every dark corner of the world. Where has this left us? I think, in a state of ‘removal’, in a state of numbness. It is saturating our capacity to feel anything. Never has this world needed more the disgusting absurdity of 2016 represented on a stage. And that is why Removal Men is happening.

Best wishes,

Jay Miller, with M.J Harding

1. We take the research of all our shows very seriously. especially when we are making work that is politically, culturally and emotionally sensitive. Below is a sample of the work, conversations and reading we undertook in the making of Removal Men.

Mike took part in a direct action at Yarl’s Wood in 2012 and has since grown friendships with several former detainees, supporting their asylum cases. He also has friendships with individuals from Sisters Uncut and Implicated Theatre, having regular conversations during the development of the show.
Mike and I have visited Yarl’s Wood both together and separately, several times over the last four years, using meetings and conversations with a number of detainees as primary sources for the show. We have also spoken with a number of Yarl's Wood Befrienders.
We met with Mark Townsend, Guardian journalist, and read numerous articles, books, reports and government documents including The Home Office’s ‘Operational Enforcement Manual’.
The wider team spoke with with Human Rights Lawyer Harriet Wistrich who represents detained women, and Sarah Graham from Women for Refugee Women helped us with some research questions.

2. We understand the desire to have conversation about Removal Men, and we hope that conversation happens after each performance. Sometimes we create more structured forums for this conversation to occur, and one of these is the Dialogue Theatre Club, facilitated by Maddy Costa, which is happening next week on the 8th December. This doesn’t include any of the core creative team, as the idea is to create a space safe enough for people to respond without worrying about insult. Next week, The Yard will host a conversation about the work that will include Mike and Jay, intended as an open discussion with anyone welcome to ask and to answer questions. Further details are on our website.

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