When I first moved to London, all I had were three things: two flatmates who worked in Camden, a cat, who they’d apparently adopted during a wild night out in Clapham, and ‘Chester’. As time went on, I discovered that Camden is an amazing market in Central London, that Clapham isn’t anywhere near it and that Chester, whom everyone had referred to as mine, was actually just a chest of drawers which was in my room. One of the strongest memories I have is of my first evening in London, of coming back to an empty, cold house. I didn’t even know how to turn the heating on (or the lights for that matter), but when I sat down on the sofa covered in cat hair, I remember that I felt safe and I felt like I was home.
I came to London for one purpose: to make theatre; to train as a theatre director and as an actress. But the first thing to do, of course, was to bartend.
It became a running joke at the pub: I actually ‘do theatre’ to support my deep passion for bartending. But in that little pub in North London I felt like I belonged. To many people there, staff and customers, I was the first Israeli they’d ever met. It was great to open up a discussion about Israel with them and to describe the reality of growing up there, allowing them to see the situation in a different way. By hearing my personal story they were more able to relate to it. I always knew that my student visa would expire one day and I (along with many other foreign students staying in the UK) always dreaded the day I’d have to leave because in London I felt so much more like myself than I ever had before. I feel that sometimes having distance from home gives you clarity about who you are, where you want to be and where you choose to live your life.
I was really shocked when I got to know all the rules and regulations surrounding the immigration policy in the UK, and what surprised me even more was how little everyone else knew about it as well. No one, not the friends I’d made nor the people who’d wanted to employ me, seemed to know how hard it was for someone outside of the EU to get work in the UK, even if you had trained here. These regulations are especially challenging, I think, for young emerging creatives who are trying to tell their stories and make their way in what is by all accounts the theatre capital of the world. It frustrates me that these artists, who’ve travelled so far to share their untold stories, and who’ve learned a new language to express them, come up against an impenetrable immigration wall.
I was very lucky in that it also frustrated everyone around me- friends, teachers, co-workers, customers at the pub. That frustration grew until one day I sat down with my closest friends and told them my story.
Those close friends have now become the members of what is known as Althea Theatre, an international ensemble of eleven British and non-British actors, and my story became one of the source materials for our first production, One Last Thing (For Now). The piece was inspired by love letters written during times of war, and covered different wars in different countries and in different languages.
There is a saying in the Talmud that goes: ‘we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are’ and I think the purpose of theatre should be to broaden the ‘we’, so that it becomes the voice of the collective, not just of the individual. In Althea, we want to use the collective experience so ‘we’, not just as artists but also as audience, can see more, and thereby understand more. We are constantly fed stories by newspapers and social media and not all of it is true, but how can you sift through all those words to find something to relate to? Often it is not the accounts of political standoffs that hold your attention but the personal account of one individual. When starting to write There’s No Place Like, I wanted, therefore, to make it very much an individual account.
There was a man named Jordan who came to the pub. He wanted a drink. He was utterly lost because he had lost almost everything that mattered to him. It was quiet. I had nothing to do. So I asked him how his day was. Four hours later he walked me to my bus stop. All he needed, I think, was someone to talk to. By the end of those four hours, he knew he needed to go home. By the end of those four hours, I knew my home was a place I didn’t want to go back to. I wanted to start a new home.
I never saw him again.
What if? What if Jordan did manage to find his home and I didn’t?
What if all the people looking for a home in another country aren’t able to find it?
What if we, as artists, aren’t free to carry our stories across oceans and languages, to create, empower others and see more?
I formed Althea Theatre to allow the artists that I trust, love and respect to make theatre together cross-culturally and to freely challenge how we see our own reality. The ten actors that performed One Last Thing (For Now) are now producing, directing and designing There’s No Place Like. We work together and we’re not scared to approach themes that seem daunting, like war or immigration, in an intimate, sensitive and funny way. And when something doesn’t work, we play Grandmother’s Footsteps and teach each other foreign swear words.
When I first moved to London, all I had were the flatmates from Camden, the cat from Clapham and Chester, the chest of drawers. Now, I have a home and a world. And while I don’t have a permanent visa, I do hope this show will appeal to all the people who are either in the same situation as me, or have never heard about the British immigration policy, and I hope it sparks their own ideas of home and about where they feel they belong in this world.
And if all else fails, there’s always the pub.
There’s No Place Like is on at The Warren:Theatre Box on May 11 – 12. See their website for tickets.