05.11.15 Theatre Visit: Safina Al-Hayat (Life Boat) by The Paper Project

I watched this performance as a case study for my CW1 essay. The essay focused on refugee performance in applied performance. Most of the information in this entry has been used from there. Please refer to the bibliography at the end of this entry.


Safina Al-Hayat (Life Boat) by The Paper Project (Ovalhouse, London, 5th November 2015), meaning lifeboat in Arabic, is a refuge performance created by refugees from various locations, including Iraq, Bolivia, and Kosovo. Refugee performance is the exploration of refugee circumstances and experiences using drama techniques and aims. The refugees, collecting from their own experiences as refugees, created and dedicated the performance to the Syrian refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea, after collectively devising the performance with The Ovalhouse theatre.


The Ovalhouse Theatre, London, have supported and mentored migrants and refugees for more than ten years. The Ovalhouse Theatre allows migrants and refugees to learn artistic skills, such as theatrical performance, and are then able to create their own work. Safina Al-Hayat is one such project. The project was created by a group of seven migrants and refugees from various parts of the world. The project was created in solidarity with the Syrian refugees, drawing from their own experiences as migrants and refugees as a resource. Allowing migrants and refugees to create their own work on an issue they connect with and have experienced demonstrates Sheila Preston’s ideas.


Stella Barnes, the associate artist/director of participation for Safina Al Hayat, explains, “it allows them a voice through creativity.” (BBC Arts, 2015). This creates the space for empowerment and self-reliance for the oppressed or excluded, as the refugees speak and express their own experience and opinions to be heard, where their voice may be repressed. In support of this, Alison Jeffers states in Refugees, Theatre and Crisis: Performing Global Identities, theatre and performance that refugees or asylum seekers create themselves deepens and extends the ethics of hospitality (2012, p. 154).


Safina Al-Hayat a dedication to the Syrian refugees, invested in the emotional state and circumstances of the refugees involved in the performance through the display and performance of emotion and feelings, but the use of the minimalistic mise-en-scene and props was a reminder of the fact that the audience are viewing a performance of a real situation, playing on Brecht’s verfrumdungseffekt. The performance made use of wooden pallets to represent the boats used by Syrian refugees to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and a human barrier to represent the systematic oppression and unwelcoming state countries have towards the refugees. This alienation effect distanced the audience, in my experience, enabling us to examine and analyse even the emotional state of refugees. Throughout the performance, you are left wondering about each refugee’s background and the disadvantages they had to encounter as they separated from the boat and the other refugees, and pushed through the human barrier to enter the ‘country’. As each individual separated, it creates a spotlight on the individual within the collective of the refugees, creating a signifier of the many experiences, and lives that make up the Syrian refugee crisis. This was a constant reminder of the reality of refugees, reminding the audience to compare the performance to the Syrian refuge crisis.






Atwal, P. (2016) ‘CW1 How can applied performance help explore the displacement of refugees?’, PA5404: Applied Performance. University of East London. Unpublished essay.


BBC Arts (2015) Life Boat: Exploring the migrant experience on stage. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4t0Yc7fJmWHsYK6RnZHXfLs/life-boat-exploring-the-migrant-experience-on-stage (Accessed: 28.12.15).


Jeffers, A. (2012) Refugees, Theatre and Crisis: Performing Global Identities. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

05.11.15 Theatre Visit: Safina Al-Hayat (Life Boat) by The Paper Project

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