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All-star cast put the spotlight on Yarl's Wood

Juliet Stevenson heads the cast, alongside Harriet Walter and Barbara Flynn

A "disturbing" portrayal of asylum seekers detained at Yarl's Wood, based on the real life accounts of those being held at the detention centre, comes to A Bedford stage next week.

Motherland's script is made up of the words of mothers and children held at the Clapham immigration centre in November 2007.

It was produced by Natasha Walter, co-ordinator of the charity Women for Refugee Women, and popular British actress Juliet Stevenson, following their visit to Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre.

And after impressing Bedford and Kempston MP Patrick Hall and his wife in Westminster the play will now be performed at Bedford Civic Theatre.

Ms Stevenson, star of films Truly, Madly, Deeply, Bend It Like Beckham and Mona Lisa Smile, said: "When we went to Yarl's Wood we were so disturbed by what we saw and the people we met there, who were largely women and their children, that we wanted to find a way to get their story out.

"Nobody knows what goes on inside these places, how could they?

"I spoke to a Turkish Kurd and an Azerbaijani women, both had been living in the country for quite a while, living responsibly and had children in school with friends, and both had been swept on hurriedly one morning in a brutal way and put in this detention centre."

She added: "It is worse than a prison, people in prison have some legal rights no matter what they have done.

"It was appalling and both women said although they had had very bad experiences in their own countries, the asylum system here was as bad as what they had to face in their own countries."

One of the families Miss Stevenson spoke to was Cennet Avcil and her then 13-year-old daughter Meltem.

Meltem, who is now aged 16 and lives in Cambridge having had her application for asylum approved, said: "The play is basically the experience of asylum seekers in Yarl's Wood, not just mine, but all of them.

"It was depressing in there and I felt like I was not connected with life. I felt detached from society."

The play was first read at the Young Vic Theatre in London in 2008 and then in the House of Commons in Westminster, where it was seen by Claudia Hall, wife of Bedford and Kempston MP Patrick Hall.

She was so impressed by the show Mr Hall suggested bringing the performance to Bedford.

He said: "I was going to go and see a performance of Motherland in the House Of Commons and I could not go.

"Claudia went instead of me and she was very, very impressed.

"I spoke to one of the organisers after and I said given the fact that this is about Yarl's Wood and people are interested in it, both the pros and cons as they are, have you considered performing it in Bedford?

"The rest is history."

Miss Avcil, who was held in Yarl's Wood for three months, added: "I saw the play when it was in London and it's really accurate.

"It was as if they went through it all, very professional."

The play will also star Tony Award-nominated British actress Harriet Walter and Barbara Flynn, who most recently has starred in televisions Cranford.

When the play was first performed it was billed as a one-off show, but such was the demand for tickets the cast had to schedule two extra readings.

Ms Stevenson, who has been a supporter of asylum seekers rights for many years, added: "We have had a fantastic response from audiences that have seen it.

"I did not know how they would take it, but people walking out where saying how they had no idea things were happening in this way and I spoke to a number of lawyers who having seen the show took on the cases of people at Yarl's Wood.

"We want to look at the detention of children with the Home Office and open a dialogue."

Patrick Hall and Alistair Burt, MP for North East Beds, will both be speaking at the performance, which is being staged at Bedford Civic Theatre on Thursday, January 14.

The evening is being organised with the help of charities The Children's Society and Yarl's Wood Befrienders.

An ex-detainee will also speak at the performance and there will be a chance for audience discussion too.

Motherland is on at 7.30pm on Thursday, January 14.

Tickets cost 10, concessions 5.

For more information call the box office on 01234 269519 or visit the website www.bedfordcornexchange.co.uk

 
 
 

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