London play charts real-life drama of ‘Jungle’ migrant camp

The camp was widely seen as a result of a controversial 2003 accord that effectively moved Britain’s border with France to the French side of the Channel. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2018
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London play charts real-life drama of ‘Jungle’ migrant camp

LONDON: A boy is found dead and smoke fills the air ahead of a police raid: traumatic memories from France’s “Jungle” migrant camp are being recreated on a London stage.
More than a year since police swept through the squalid camp near the port of Calais, clearing out an estimated 7,000 migrants, the ordeal is captured vividly in “The Jungle” playing to sell-out crowds at the Young Vic theater.
The play is the creation of two writers who set up their own theater amid the chaos in Calais, with casts including migrant actors.
“We ended up wanting to chart the creation of that society and then the destruction, or downfall, of that society,” playwright Joe Murphy told AFP.
Murphy and fellow writer Joe Robertson, both 27, set up the Good Chance Theatre in September 2015 at the heart of the Jungle, their actors performing under a second-hand geodesic dome tent.
Three of the migrants who acted in Calais are now performing in “The Jungle,” which lays bare the precarious and dangerous times faced by those searching desperately for a passage to Britain.
Episodes in which characters race off to try their luck — seeking their “good chance” in Jungle lingo — on the roads toward the port bring tears to patrons’ eyes.
A total of 33 migrants died in the Calais area in 2015 and 2016, mostly being hit by vehicles as they tried to climb into lorries, or by trains about to pass through the Channel Tunnel.
The camp was widely seen as a result of a controversial 2003 accord that effectively moved Britain’s border with France to the French side of the Channel, creating a magnet for migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
The play’s scenes of despair are punctuated by music and laughter, as different nationalities try to live together and naive British volunteers turn up with breakfast cereal and good intentions.
“We have tried to be as honest as possible about the role we played and the role that the volunteers played in Calais,” Robertson said.
“We’ve tried to be really critical at times of the impact individuals have when they try and help.”
The play’s narrator is Ammar Hajj Ahmad, himself a refugee from Syria, who did not pass through Calais and sees his role as creating empathy.
“It’s my task to invite people to strip with me, to really be vulnerable, whether we cry or we don’t cry, to look people in the eye and say, ‘now you know’,” he said.
The desire to understand what happened across the Channel is a main draw of the show, which closes on Tuesday, before the playwrights move on to their next project.
Later this month Good Chance Paris will open in the northern Porte de la Chapelle area, bringing the dome tent used in Calais to the French capital.
“We will be a theater that welcomes people of all backgrounds, who’ve been in the city and were born there and lived there all their lives, and those that arrived there the day before,” Murphy said.
Under the stewardship of Good Chance’s French executive producer Claire Bejanin and in collaboration with the charity Emmaus Solidarite, the creative arts space will have an initial 10-week run.
Murphy said he wanted to bring together people from a wide political spectrum — “people who are very skeptical, or angry, or scared, or feel very strongly about the issue.”
Although the Calais camp has long since closed, its legacy is expected to last, and the playwrights plan to take their theater to Athens, whose government continues to grapple with a relentless migrant crisis.
For Murphy, art is the ideal means to stimulate dialogue between sometimes very different groups of people.
“Art is disarming, it’s generous, it’s gentle, but it’s kind of dangerously explorative at the same time. And that’s the context and the theater that we want to create.”


UAE gift helps French palace reopen ‘forgotten theater’

Updated 18 June 2019
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UAE gift helps French palace reopen ‘forgotten theater’

  • Now called the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre, it is the latest example of the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi
  • The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and President Emmanuel Macron in 2017

FONTAINEBLEAU: An exquisite 19th-century French theater outside Paris that fell into disuse for one and half centuries has been restored with the help of a €10 million donation from oil-rich Abu Dhabi.
The Napoleon III theater at Fontainebleau Palace south of Paris was built between 1853 and 1856 under the reign of the nephew of emperor Napoleon I.
It opened in 1857 but was used only a dozen times, which has helped preserve its gilded adornments, before being abandoned in 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III.
But during a state visit to France in 2007, Sheikh Khalifa, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, was reportedly entranced by the abandoned theater and offered €10 million ($11.2 million) on the spot for its restoration.
After a project that has lasted 12 years the theater is now being reopened.
An official inauguration is expected soon, hosted by French Culture Minister Franck Riester and attended by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Now called the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre, it is the latest example of the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi.
The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the first foreign institution to carry the name of the great Paris museum.
For all its ornate beauty, the theater has hardly ever been used for its orginal purpose, hosting only a dozen performances between 1857 and 1868, each attended by around 400 people.
“While it had been forgotten, the theater was in an almost perfect state,” said the head of the Fontainebleau Palace, Jean-Francois Hebert.
“Let us not waste this jewel, and show this extraordinary place of decorative arts,” he added.
According to the palace, the theater is “probably the last in Europe to have kept almost all its original machinery, lighting and decor.”
Having such a theater was the desire of Napoleon III’s wife Eugenie. But after the defeat, his capture in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the declaration of France’s Third Republic, the theater fell into virtual oblivion.
Following the renovation, the theater will mainly be a place to visit and admire, rather than for regularly holding concerts.
“The aim is not to give the theater back to its first vocation” given its “very fragile structure,” said Hebert.
Short shows and recitals may be performed in exceptional cases, under the tightest security measures and fire regulations. But regular guided tours will allow visitors to discover the site, including the stage sets.
The restoration aimed to use as little new material as possible, with 80 percent of the original material preserved.
The opulent central chandelier — three meters high and 2.5 meters wide — has been restored to its original form.