On Saturday 5 November the Woking Debates hosted the Journeymen Theatre production of The Bundle.
It told a truly moving story about the hostile environment of immigration law created by the UK government to make it really difficult for refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into society.
The play tells the true and unfinished story of a Russian-Chechen woman, though details have been changed to protect her identity. We first see Adilah as a teenager with her Chechen father and aunt, forced into marriage with a bullying man she doesn’t know. Then she qualifies as a lawyer, but this does not free her from the stifling expectations of her culture. When she does save the money to bring her three children secretly to England, with the help of a man she only knows from the internet, it seems her dream is realised. But then we watch her trying to find a way to get through the traps and difficulties our national system has set up for people like her. There is no violence of the sort she knew back home, and she is often treated with courtesy though with few real touches of sympathy; but increasingly it felt that Kafka might have created the maze in which she struggles. The play ends with her going to appeal. She has now been given temporary leave to remain.
The play largely tells Adilah’s story step by step. But there are two burlesque episodes which take us into the Home Secretary’s office to see the forging of the policies which constrict her. In another scene, the head of a school which is crammed with immigrant children tries to convince a sceptical OFSTED inspector that the success that she is achieving with them far outweighs her failure to reach government learning targets at age five. She is a real person, who told Lynn and Dave, “I break the law every day in this school” in providing free school meals to all. And we are briefly shown an old man at the doctors, pouring out his views about the unfairness which he thinks migrants have brought to this country. These episodes do not tell us what to conclude as we are simply invited to watch what happens and explore our own reactions.
The play moves from the tradition of the folk story to that of biting satire as it charts Adilah’s bid for freedom, safety and hope.
And the Bundle? This refers to the bundle of papers that is vital for each refugee who wishes to come to the UK.
This is a real story yet I am sure it has been repeated with minor alterations many times. The Journeymen Theatre are retiring this coming year and so if you get a chance to see this production do go. It is heartbreaking and yet so common. Woking Debates hope to bring them back to Woking one last time in 2023.
Keith Scott, member of the Quaker faith
Date: Tuesday 13th December 2022