Newbury Corn Exchange's Afghan play supports child refugees arriving in UK
A STAGE adaptation of Fabio Geda’s novel In The Sea There Are Crocodiles – the unforgettable story of a child’s five-year journey in search of a safe place to live, based on the true story of Enaiatollah Akbari – comes to Newbury and Oxford as part of a world premiere tour.
In the Sea There Are Crocodiles is one child’s epic tale of hope and survival. As unaccompanied children around the world continue daily to seek asylum, it is a tale that is re-lived by them, over and over.
This production and the company behind it have come together specifically to raise funds for Young Roots, a charity supporting child refugees arriving in the UK.
Producer Mary Loudon is a prizewinning author and director Nicola Moran is a stage and screen actor who now runs her own drama academy. The production has music especially written by Arson Fahim, who was himself a refugee. Everyone involved is working on the production for free to support the Young Roots charity.
“From the moment I discovered Young Roots, a charity providing immediate and long-term support to child refugees in the UK, I swore to its patron, the actor Juliet Stevenson, that I would find a way to raise money for them,” producer Mary Loudon tells Trish Lee.
“I’d read the true story In The Sea There Are Crocodiles some years earlier and it haunted me ever after. I’d read how, at the age of 10, Enaiat Akbari’s village fell prey to the Taliban; how, fearing for his life, Enaiat’s mother led him across the border where she left him, alone, to fend for himself.
I’d read about Enaiat’s five-year ordeal: traversing bitterly cold mountains, near-suffocating in the base of a truck, steering an inflatable raft in violent seas. I’d marvelled how that young boy crossed Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece – discovering brotherhood, witnessing death and losing everything but hope – before arriving in Italy, aged 15.
In August 2019, it hit me; the book would make a brilliant play, and the play could be the fundraiser. I got together with theatre director Nicola Moran, and over tea in a café in September 2019, we began work, there and then. Three months later, LoudonMoranProductions was formed – we had the UK theatre rights to the book, Nicola adapted it into a play, we cast brilliant young actors, booked professional theatres and started fundraising for the considerable production costs.
Then, the pandemic struck, but we were determined not to let people down; we didn’t cancel; we postponed the planned autumn 2020 tour, and later rearranged it from scratch, with the sad loss of five venues in the process.
Nonetheless, with huge efforts plus the support of patrons and sponsors – among them Philip Pullman, Harriet Walter, Sally Philips, Marcus Brigstocke and Julian Rhind-Tutt – the World Premiere and Tour 2021 is ready to go.
How I wish the play were fiction. How I wish it were not more relevant now than ever before. Our 21-year-old Afghan composer, Arson Fahim, is a former refugee himself and such a gifted musician that he conducted the Afghanistan National Symphony Orchestra when still in his teens. A few weeks ago, he left Kabul for the US to take up a prestigious scholarship to a music conservatoire. It could be the greatest adventure of his life. Instead, he is sleepless, helpless and grieving, worrying for his family, friends and country. It should not be this way. It is terrible that it is.
In the Sea There Are Crocodiles is one child’s epic tale of hope and survival. As unaccompanied children around the world continue daily to seek asylum, and as the people of Afghanistan suffer in myriad ways that most of us can barely imagine, it is a tale that is re-lived by them, every single day.
I hope our play will be one of many wake-up calls. We cannot doze through this terror and tragedy. We have to help. We have to do anything we can.”
In The Sea There Are Crocodiles is at the Corn Exchange, at 7.30pm on Wednesday (September 1), and Oxford Playhouse on Sunday, September 12. The Playhouse performance will be simultaneously livestreamed.