Much like the two protagonists, HEARD is vulnerable and forceful at the same time. It deals with ambitious subject matters (as part of No Direction Home, a festival exploring displacement, migration and refuge), and while it might not always have the cohesiveness of a mature play, it does deliver a high impact performance. It’s captivating, stirring, and thought-provoking all the way through.
Amana and Hafizah are two strangers to each other. For reasons we are not told, in a place we can’t quite pin down, they get to share the same room. Their first interaction is imbued with suspicion, scorn, menace. Slowly, though, the two young women set aside their masks, and reveal who they really are, what they are looking for, and what brought them here (though always with a hint of haziness). This will take them on a journey to have their voices heard, in a universe where nothing and no-one seems to be on their side.
HEARD is inspired by the current immigration situation in the UK, the only country in Europe where indefinite detention is still allowed. Through shifts cleaning the toilets, frightening letters and hunger strikes, we get an insight into the often violent and traumatic experience people go through when they are detained. The play denounces the sense of unsettlement that’s integral to indefinite detention by placing the audience in the detainees’ shoes: we don’t know the reason Amana and Hafizah are being detained and for how long they will be – often detainees themselves are not told either.
Writers and performers Winnie Imara (Amana) and Tamsin Newlands (Hafizah) are inspiring and well-rounded. Under the debut direction of Abigail Sewell, the play is brought to life with accomplishment, with only a couple of bumps, mainly to do with the consequentiality of events (for example, the reasons leading to the hunger strike feel a bit rushed, and so does the end).
Gaining more and more strength in both acting and storyline as it goes along, the play reaches its apex when it delves into the personal lives of the two young women. Hafizah has a brother she wants to be reunited with. Amana wants to study Civil Engineering at university. Incidentally, the character of Amana reminded me of Agnes, a young refugee who got an offer from Manchester University, but found out she was ‘ineligible for student finance’ and therefore unable to pay for her tuition fees. While Agnes applied for and received a grant from the charity Hope for the Young, and managed to kick off her studies, Amana was stuck in detention while already having her offer and scholarship. Agnes made it, Amana didn’t.
HEARD is about uncertainty and displacement, but succeeds in being empowering in the way it tackles social problems and instigates change. It gives a voice to the nearly 30,000 people who are detained across the UK every year, and does so with sharpness, passion and acuity.
HEARD is on at Camden People’s Theatre until 7th November. Tickets are available here.