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How giving refuge can bring further conflict

DK Ugonna, Suzanne Celensu, Edd Bower, Cassandra Hodges in new play, Paradise Road
DK Ugonna, Suzanne Celensu, Edd Bower, Cassandra Hodges in new play, Paradise Road

A new play about asylum seekers by Sheffield writer James Stone has its professional premiere at the Library Theatre this weekend.

Paradise Road tells the story of Helen and Richard, who open their London home to refugees from war-torn Iraq. As the two couples get to know each other, Helen begins to suspect their new houseguests aren’t quite what they appear to be. Generosity and goodwill quickly give way to suspicions on all sides, with catastrophic results.

The play was inspired by media reports of people opening their homes in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Production company Tales Retold, has partnered with Assist Sheffield, the asylum seeker charity.

“I did research into the Armenian-Iraqi culture and the city of Mosul where they have come from,” Stone explains. “But I really concentrated on the characters and the dramatic piece. This is more a thriller than an issues or political play.

“It’s also a drama about what happens when you open your home to someone else and the tensions when two couples begin sharing a home.

The people at Assist like it because it has a lot of elements that reflect on the positive side but also the embarrassments and the comic misunderstandings and the discomforts.

Jochen Kortlaender of Assist Sheffield confirms that: “I was intrigued by James’ play, as it portrays asylum seekers as 3-D individuals; neither political heroes or victims nor scroungers or criminals, but as people with dreams and aspirations and flaws and weaknesses too. All too often we see very stereotypical portrayals of refugees in our media, but Paradise Road certainly gets away from that”

There is a cast of four plus the pre-recorded voice of Sheffield actor Ali Mylon. Edd Bower and Cassandra Hodges and DK Ugonna and Suzanne Celensu play the respective couples,.

“There are not many Armenian Iraqi actors,” explains Stone, “ so we have DK who is half-Nigerian and Suzanne who is half-Turkish and talks about the experience of her father when he first came over. We all have stories in our family histories about movement and displacement.

“My father came from Czechoslovakia as a refugee during the Second World War and settled in Sheffield because he had a background in the steel industry.”

As a pupil at High Storrs James appeared in productions of Gilbert and Sullivan and played Mac the Knife in The Threepenny Opera but says it was once he went to Oxford Brookes University and became involved with the Oxford drama scene that he was “bitten by the theatre bug”.

After graduating he worked for a company providing cruise ship entertainment for a while and has worked as an advertising copywriter among other things, and in the meantime resettled in Sheffield 10 years ago.

He writes for a wide variety of media and adapted Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty for a national tour, but regards this as “my first foray into mainstream theatre”.

Stone has linked up with his old school to offer performing arts students a behind-the scenes look at the process. He and producer Cassie Hodges he visited sixth form students to offer career advice and invited them to auditions and rehearsals.

Performances of Paradise Road at the Library Theatre on Friday and Saturday, 7.30pm, will help raise funds for and awareness of Assist Sheffield.