Mafwa Theatre are a community theatre group working with refugees, asylum seekers and settled communities in East Leeds since 2018. Earlier this year we got to watch Theatre Company Blah Blah’s ‘A Vulture’s Song’ at Interplay Theatre, Armley.
Mafwa Theatre runs a women’s drama group every Friday at Leeds Refugee Forum. The group is a fun and welcoming space where women and non binary folks from East Leeds can make new friends and learn skills through drama exercises and games. Together we create performance pieces such as ‘To & Fro’, a mixed media exhibition and live art piece performed at Leeds City Museum, Migration Matters Festival, Sheffield and Journeys Festival, Leicester as part of Refugee Week last year.
The Vultures’ Song is a story about a young girl’s journey to find home. The play was nominated for Best Play for Young Audiences at the 2019 Writers’ Guild Awards and is written by award-winning children’s writer Mike Kenny.
The journey to Interplay provided great foreshadowing of the play. A member of staff, a volunteer and Madeleine Thorne, head of community partnerships at Opera North, met participants outside Leeds Art Gallery so we could hop on the 72 together. We decided to take our chances on the 16 bus, which although quicker, departed from outside Leeds train station. We meandered in and out of commuters in the city centre keeping a watch for each other and finally found ourselves on the bus. We were worried about being late and our co-artistic director, who was waiting for us at Interplay, was able to delay the play by ten minutes. We rushed from the bus stop with over 15 minutes to spare, panting slightly, and were greeted with smiles and water, before sitting down to watch the show.
Participants loved the inventive use of props, the humour mixed with tragedy and the set. Our group is made up of those who have and have not experienced the hostile environment first hand and we try to avoid open discussions about participants’ migration status or journeys in sessions, leaving these conversations to come up organically outside of the session. The play dealt with a subject that some participants have loved experience of and others have only heard of. Although it was difficult for some participants, the q+a after the show and the subsequent discussions that we had in our workshop helped to spark fruitful discussions about why some people have to leave their homes.
The group is not only about creating community and making performances, it is also a chance to get out together and see some great theatre. We try to discuss the show and give some background to the theatre company before seeing a show and follow it up with some critical discussions and exercises based on the performance. We want to develop the critical capacity of group members so that they can develop the shows we create and feel comfortable with expressing how they want to be presented on stage with technical language.
Being part of the Arts Together network gives us a great opportunity to find out about arts happening across the city, and to get a clear idea of which performances are suitable for the group’s access needs and suit their interests.
Keziah Berelson is the co-Artistic Director of Mafwa Theatre.