If ever there was an important story to be told it is that of ‘Tanja’, a semi-fictional account of a woman seeking asylum in the UK to escape enslavement by human-traffickers in the sex trade. This is a story with real emotive power that leaves one questioning our government’s policies towards asylum seekers.
For Tanja (Emily Ntshangase-Wood) the UK represents a vision of hope. Yet upon arriving in the UK she is met by an immigration officer (John Tomlinson) who very quickly begins to tear down this vision. Handcuffed and subjected to suspicious questioning, Tanja is locked up and made to feel like a criminal. As one inmate tells Tanja, here, “you count your days up”.
The set and lighting was minimal but oppressive enough to create an atmosphere of entrapment and claustrophobia, all centred around a harsh metal bunk bed on stage. The decision to have a guard on stage watching Tanja through a CCTV screen in her cell throughout the performance was effective in exposing the intrusiveness of the asylum seeking process.
Ntshangase-Wood gives a very personal performance as Tanja. She herself was an asylum seeker kept as Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Her story of bravery and defiance is used throughout the play.
However, the question of why refugees like Tanja perceive the UK as a friendly, welcoming nation is something of a mystery. Since the fairly recent securitisation (turning a subject into an issue of security, more than likely affecting the security of the state) of migration, the British media has relished any opportunity possible to blame this country’s misfortunes on innocent migrants.
Tanja’ shatters the UK’s perceived ‘welcoming’ reputation. For Tanja, it is as though she has escaped one nightmare, only to find herself in another. The audience are shown a sobering reality of 21st century Britain, but with a run time of one hour, Tanja uses its time wisely. It exposes the dire consequences of being kept behind the barbed wire fence and not being allowed to have an identity. Yet, Tanja also shows us the consequences of having the platform to share your story and to tell it centre stage; which is, unquestionably, great theatre.