14 Oct 2015

Play takes on plight of historical refugees

6:48 pm on 14 October 2015

The plight of refugees since the Second World War is being told on stage at Waikato University in Hamilton, but it's become more topical as displaced people journey across Europe looking for a safe haven.

A scene from the rehearsal for the play.

A scene from the rehearsal for the play. Photo: Radio NZ / Andrew McRae

Thousands of refugees are fleeing war-torn Syria, and they are not all receiving a warm welcome as some countries lock down their borders.

Sea and Smoke tells the stories of refugees through the eyes of children who have had to leave their families and homes to be safe.

Inspiration for the play came from the kindertransport just prior to the Second World War, when up to ten thousand Jewish children were sent to the United Kingdom to escape threats being made by Nazi Germany against Jews.

Theatre studies lecturer, and the play's director, Dr Laura Haughey said the parallels between what happened 75 years ago and what was happening now had not been lost on her students.

"This is one of the questions that have been coming up, why is this happening again, why are there large numbers of unaccompanied minors travelling across Europe now as we speak. It has been the largest influx since the kindertransports and these kids are looking for safety and to get out of a place that is not tenable that they can not survive in."

Sixteen students taking a third year Creating Theatre course have researched and written the play and are acting in the play.

One of them, Jemma Sangster, said working on the play for the past 11 weeks had been very moving and had in a way made her feel helpless.

"How do you comprehend the fact that we are living here, doing this kind of stuff and portraying it, when people are actually living it and that is daunting."

Alice Kennedy is another student actor. For her the similarities between past and present became very apparent when researching the responses to refugees during and after the war, and what was happening now.

"Even down to people appealing to the government, including a group of Rabbis who have just written a letter saying, help these people, we need to do this again, we did it in the kindertransport and this is why we have the E.U and we need that other great moment of human generosity at this time just like we did then."

For Philip Garrity, the lack of empathy for the plight of refugees shown by many today is in sharp contrast to what Germany is doing now to help refugees swarming across Europe.

"It almost seems like the empathy is coming from and why can't the rest of us many of whom were victims who have had to run and lived off someone else's hospitality and why can't we show this kindness and empathy to other people."

Ms Kennedy said she thinks any refugees who see the play would come away empowered and that stories of their plight were finally being heard.

"I feel like they would want there to be some kind of concrete change to come out of this but also happy that someone has taken up that story and feels that it is an important one to be told."

Sea and Smoke is being performed at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at Waikato University until Friday.