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GUEST BLOG: Emma Manton: “Our job as theatre practitioners is to tell these stories and remember to imagine ourselves in their position – to practice empathy.”

Emma Manton

Emma Manton

In 2014, I was cast in the RSC’s Winter Season, which involved spending 6 months in Stratford-upon-Avon. Fired up by the beauty of the place and having achieve a few good night’s sleep, away from my 6-year-old son, I agreed to join playwright Michelle Terry on a 2-mile run. I had no idea where that run would lead.

In the summer of 2015, the media was full with harrowing images of refugees washing up on the beaches of the Mediterranean. I wanted to find a way to help – so I contacted the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and, before I knew it, I’d agreed to run the London Marathon for them. Having no experience of fundraising, I called a few friends and realised that people were desperate to find a way to help the unfolding refugee crisis.

I curated Moving Stories in response to the current global refugee crisis and it was first performed at the National Theatre in 2016. David Edgar, Richard Bean, Phil Porter, Michelle Terry and other incredible playwrights wrote and donated material and 36 actors gave up time to perform. We raised nearly £15,000.

Since then, the danger and persecution faced by refugees around the world has only worsened, particularly in the light of Donald Trump’s postponement of the US refugee programme. The distress that the fear surrounding the confusion of ‘refugee’ and ‘terrorist’ runs the risk of blinding us to the simple fact that the vast majority of people displaced by wars are fleeing the same people that scare us in the West. We see the huge numbers and not the thousands of individual stories.

Nevertheless, our job as theatre practitioners is to tell these stories and remember to imagine ourselves in their position – to practice empathy. When we see the world from other people’s point of view, we are more able to work together to find answers.

To quote UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees) Ambassador Neil Gaiman, ‘It’s not just about financial support, although funds are desperately needed and every donation is deeply appreciated (please do donate!), it’s also about staying informed and helping tell the refugee story – to friends, to family, at school, at work, around the kitchen table.’

On Sunday 26th February at 4pm, I’m calling on you to join us at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and stand in solidarity with refugees. You’ll be treated to brilliantly funny and moving plays and some new writing for good measure. Also, Great British Bake-off’s Mel Giedroyc will be hosting and joined on stage by a host of British Theatre stars, including Rufus Hound (One Man, Two Guvnors), Denise Gough (People, Places, Things), Andy Nyman (Ghost Stories), Adjoa Andoh (Doctor Who), Lisa Dillon (Cranford), Edward Bennett (Photograph 51), Anna-Jane Casey (Billy Elliot), Caroline Sheen (Mary Poppins) and Evelyn Hoskins (Sound of Music Live).

See you there, folks!

Emma Manton