We managed to steal some time just before the press night with the director of ELEGY – a brand new hard hitting, emotionally charged, one man show about the plight of gay Iraqi refugees post ‘liberation’.
Playing at the Theatre503 in Battersea until November 3rd 2012
1) Tell us the idea for the show come about?
I’ve always been attracted to narratives of otherness. I guess it was something to do with being gay and growing up on a council estate in a small conservative Essex town. A lot of my work looks at questions around identity and displacement. I was doing some research for another piece about migration and I came across a web article by photojournalist Bradley Secker who had interviewed gay Iraqi refugees in Syria who had fled mass killings of gays in Iraq. I knew nothing about the situations so I felt in some small way I could get those stories out there.
2) How did it feel reading the interviews by gay Iraqi refugees?
I was stunned. It didn’t make sense that that level of violence could be happening in a country that we had supposedly liberated. It is now more difficult to be gay in Iraq than it was under Saddam Hussein. I mean religious extremists carry out unspeakable torture and the so-called democratic government or the international community does nothing.
3) What is life like for gay Iraqis?
Before the war there was a scene, places where men would hang out, meet or socialise. It was tolerated. It is not illegal to be gay in Iraq but since the war the gay community has been targeted. LGBT people have been living in fear since religious militia claimed control of the streets post invasion. Before there was some liberty and security, and after some expected more freedom. But the conservative Islamic forces that won power were unwilling to tolerate Western values, and homosexuality became wrongly linked with that. LGBT people became cheap and popular targets. Men are kidnapped, tortured and killed.
4) Did anything surprise you or shock you in the artistic process for Elegy?
The details of the torture are horrific. We reference a few in the play, they are spoken about. Most of the process looked at ways of getting audiences to empathise with these truths. So the piece has become a piece of story telling. There’s a responsibility to engage audiences empathetically, so we circumnavigate preconceptions. To begin with we lie – we meet a character who could be white and British, he’s in a foreign country, stuck in an asylum process, he attempts to piece together his life. He recounts a first teenage kiss, pre invasion gay life, and the murder of a friend and a voyage of exile. Some of it is imagined, some taken from formal interviews and informal Skype chats, reports by Human Rights Watch and Stonewall and an essay on the illness of exile. By the end the context has become explicit. There’s some hoodwinking going on to begin with (the very nature of theatre is a lie after all) but by the end the truth lands violently in the audience’s lap.
5) Why the name Elegy?
It’s a personal choice. In many ways it is my Elegy (a poem or song for the dead) for the men who have been lost. It’s a way of marking their lives. It’s also because the piece is poetic, it is not a hard-core political verbatim piece, and it could have been this. I wanted to create something beautiful and deeply moving.
6) Can you talk a little bit about the ‘700 items of clothes / 700 homophobic murders’ How did you / do want the audience to react to this?
The clothes represent the lost lives. It’s an installation really. There’s something arresting about looking at a pile of discarded clothes because we know that each item had an owner, an owner who had a story. It’s like when you see a single shoe in the street, it’s always a little odd or upsetting because you become aware that that shoe has a story and we don’t know about it.
7) Why it important to have a show like Elegy?
Theatre is such a great medium in terms of engaging audiences with difficult stories, because in a theatre we are willing to imagine anything – we can go further – we become imaginatively and emotionally engaged. This can have a greater impact than watching a documentary or reading an article. So for me it’s important to use theatre to engage audiences with stories that they may otherwise never come in contact with.
Elegy runs at the 503 Theatre until the 3rd November 2012 Tuesday to Sunday.
Visit http://theatre503.com/ for more information or call 020 7978 7040 for the box office.