AJ Taudevin’s new play about asylum seekers in Scotland is rooted in some very personal experiences, as she tells Mark Brown
In 2005, accomplished young photojournalist Robin Taudevin came to Glasgow to create a photographic account of the lives of asylum seekers who were facing a clampdown on refused applicants by the UK authorities. “It was at a time when there were lots of dawn raids”, remembers Robin’s sister, the dramatist Allison Julia (or AJ, as she’s known).
Shortly after his Scottish assignment, Robin Taudevin died, on May 14, 2006, at the age of 29, in a freediving accident off the coast of East Timor. He had been working there photographing the devastating riots in the capital, Dili.
AJ shares with her late brother a passionate internationalism and a belief in social justice. A writer, actress and activist who has been working with asylum seeker and refugee communities in Glasgow for the last six years, AJ says that Robin’s photographs from Scotland are “integral to the creation” of her new play, Some Other Mother.
In her work with community groups, AJ used her brother’s photographs as a way into telling stories, with both adults and children, which might help them to move forward. “It was storytelling as a way to find playful ways forward. I always felt that there was a story in there that I wanted to make into theatre, but I didn’t know which one was my story to tell. I didn’t feel that I had the right to come in and document one person’s story or comment on the experiences of a particular community.”
Over time, as she continued her work in Glasgow, AJ found that, through her increasing familiarity with particular individuals and families, the stories they were creating were becoming “increasingly fantastical and surreal.” This growth of a creative and fictional way of relating to Robin’s photographs fed in very directly to her writing Some Other Mother, a play in which the experiences of a mother and young daughter seeking asylum in the UK are seen through the child’s eyes.
“It’s very important to me that it’s clear that the play is not a documentary”, says the author. “At the core of it is a mother and child’s traumatic experience of going through the British asylum system, which is breaking them apart, because of the way in which it dehumanises people.”
Which is not to say that AJ’s drama is a trauma play. In fact, she emphasises, it draws strongly upon “the ability of a child, especially one aged around 10 to 13, to take a distressing experience, for example when someone is in tears, and completely turn it on its head and find the joy, the silliness and playfulness in the most extreme and traumatic situations.”
Boasting a strong cast – comprised of Pauline Knowles and Billy Mack (both of whom are familiar to Scottish audiences), and Joy Elias Rivan and young actress Shvorne Marks (who are both based in London) – Some Other Mother is the latest in a series of plays about the asylum experience which have premiered in Scotland; John Retallack’s Hannah And Hanna, Kay Adshead’s The Bogus Woman and, most recently, Cora Bissett and David Greig’s Glasgow Girls, to name but three.
To those who accuse such plays of “preaching to the converted”, AJ has a simple response: “If it is preaching to the converted, that’s great… For me, in my own political life, there’s nothing more wonderful than being in a room full of people with whom I feel I share a common dream or hope.”
Some Other Mother tours Scotland, June 6-27. For tour dates and further information, visit: http://www.someothermotherplay.wordpress.com
This preview was originally published in the Sunday Herald on June 2, 2013
© Mark Brown