The artist is present, and screaming

11 April 2017

Seeing No Human is Illegal moved Iain Orr to scream and shout and promise to turn every head towards the refugee crisis


I had the honour of being shamed this afternoon. I was able to catch a rehearsal of No Human is Illegal staged by Leyton Sixth Form College this afternoon before they opened to the festival at large and I am overwhelmed by the reminder that this company has brought to me. Art is a screaming, shouting, stamping tantrum and I can think of no better allegory.

Art is (or at least in my opinion) a voice of society channelled through those of us who feel the call to speak out for justice, equality and freedom. I worry that we have become too inwardly focused, however, too concerned with our own societies and our own industry, our own equal opportunities forms and our own acronyms.

We worry whether BAMEs have been addressed, are we DDA compliant, have we assumed a pronoun, have we made sure our ACE application includes sufficient community engagement, have we ensured that children with learning difficulties can access our work and have we completed every form, every box, every category of person?

And while I applaud every person who has ever agonised over whether they have placed their own bias on a work, have they been fair, have they been honest, I worry that we are missing the bigger, more desperate picture.

Or maybe we’re just drawing the blinds a little; the subject is too big, too vast for us to contend with.

Every day we hear the news of another attack, another strike, another humanitarian crisis, another ship lost in the azure sea. Another loss, another picture, another father holding another baby in their arms, another child wandering the street while their parents lie bloodied at their tiny feet, another voice that cries from the water, another body that washes upon golden shores. Another empty home, another wailing mother, another man sat in his once love-filled home, now rotten timbers filled with explosives.

No Human has shamed me. Those young people have stood on that stage and said some very simple things.

This is fucked up. This is not acceptable. This must not be allowed to continue.

I left that auditorium wanting to run screaming from the campus, to shout with every fibre and I picked up the phone to my partner and had a little cry. And I made a decision. I would not allow this any longer, I would not permit the agony of humanity to be ignored because it was not palatable.

These young people in their production may not present the perfect polished theatre, it may not feature exciting special effects or deep readings of artistc criticism, but it does something I have not experienced for a very long time. It moved me. It hurt me. I didn’t give a shit about the colour of the performers’ skin or how they identified, where they were from or which letter of the acronyms they fitted in to. I cared that they were speaking to me, calling me to action, screaming at me, mourning with me and challenging me. 

I commend the students of Leyton Sixth Form College and their director Katy Arnell for the candidness of their statement. I can only offer one thing in response. A promise that I will do everything I can to never allow this, I will take your tantrum and I will throw it elsewhere, I will push and turn every head toward this crisis and then I will walk towards those who suffer and weep and hold their dead and I will take their hand and say only one thing: No Human is Illegal.  


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