Love London Love Culture chatted to Mohand about Welcome to the UK, playing at the Bunker Theatre from the 22nd January.
Could you explain what ‘Welcome to the UK’ is about?Welcome to the UK is about the situation of refugees in the UK and about the system here, like the Home Office, that we have to go through when we claim asylum. People think we are safe when we cross the border and arrive here, but it’s not true. You don’t understand anything, you feel very lonely and the procedure is very difficult. A lot of us become homeless after the 28 days (note: when you get granted asylum you have a 28 days deadline to have a NI number, open a bank account, find a job and a home. At the end of these 28 days you’re kicked out in the street).
What were your first impressions of the play when you first heard the premise of ‘Welcome to the UK’? We created the play altogether, it was not written before. But I liked the idea of doing a show about our lives now. We did our first show Borderline about our lives in Calais Jungle so now it’s good to do a show about what happens after.
Why do you think comedy is a good way to highlight and portray the migrant experience in the UK? I love comedy and I think a lot of people do as well, so we can laugh altogether! It breaks the wall between us. Also, when people talk about refugees, it’s always bad or sad and I don’t want people to see me like that. I’m not like that! I’m a funny man. It’s what happened to me that is very difficult. I don’t want people to be scared of me.
How have you found working on the production so far?It’s the second show that I have created with Borderline so I now know a bit more how you create a story – I was not completely lost. I find the beginning of the process a bit difficult because everybody talks a lot and gives a lot of ideas, but we don’t know where to go. I prefer when we start taking a direction and try things on stage. I love acting!
What do you think audiences will take away from ‘Welcome to the UK’? I think they will learn a lot of things about the system here for us and they will maybe feel closer to us. It might encourage them to do something to help another refugee and I think they will like our group! It’s full of different people, different countries, different colours! it’s a very unique group. It’s my UK family.
How have you found working with director Sophie NL Besse so far? It’s easy for me because we know each other very well. With people from Borderline we see each other a lot outside of rehearsals. We have often diner at Sophie’s home and we travelled a lot with our first show. We even went to India for 10 days, so we did a lot of things together. Great ones and sometimes difficult ones when there is bad news. So when we work together, it’s not completely like normal work. I trust Sophie, I know that the group is very important for her.
With productions such as ‘Welcome to the UK’ and ‘The Jungle’ it seems theatre is becoming an increasingly important way to highlight the stories of refugees – what else do you think could be done to help them? What is very important for me in Borderline and in Welcome to the UK is that it’s us who tell our stories, the way we want to. No one uses us or what happened to us. So many people asked for my story when I was in Calais and I didn’t like that. Now we can be heard, it’s us on stage. And I think people can do that in other places: give us a chance to show what we like and can do. We can sing, dance, paint, we can do many things! It’s great to have the opportunity to share who we are with our own words rather than hearing people talking about us all the time and it’s not even always true.
Also, what I like it’s that there are some actors from the UK and Europe in the group and it really helped me make some friends here. It’s very difficult to meet people when it’s not your language and when people are a bit scared of you. This really changed my life. Invite us to your events or come to the ‘Together workshops’ – this way we can meet, have fun and little by little we make friends and rebuild our lives. The Together workshops are free and everyone is welcome. It’s for people from all backgrounds to meet and have fun together.
How would you describe ‘Welcome to the UK’? It’s a funfair where you follow different people and different stories. The boss of the funfair is Theresa May – the actress is my friend Tamara, she’s an accordionist and singer, she’s amazing in the show! My story is the true one, how I live in London doing several jobs but how I dream to become an actor! I love this show because at the end I become famous!
By Emma Clarendon
Welcome to the UK will play at the Bunker Theatre from the 22nd January until the 16th February.