Marking World Refugee Day 2021

  This year we’re remembering and celebrating the artists whose incredible work highlights and amplifies these stories of dislocation, struggle and the search for sanctuary

6 minute read

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers
Their babies at their backs, and their poor luggage
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation.

World Refugee Day was held globally for the first time on 20 June 2001, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It has continued ever since.

Here on Bankside, our 16th Century replica building has its roots firmly intertwined with the boundless vision of Sam Wanamaker, a political refugee who devoted the last years of his life to rebuilding the Globe: a home on Bankside dedicated to the education, research and performance of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in theatres similar to those for which the plays were written.

A man in a white shirt and black tie holds a hard hat in front of the Globe Theatre

Our Founder, Sam Wanamaker, was a political refugee himself, who believed strongly in the relationship between art and politics.

Were it not for Sam’s tenacity; passion and compassion, we would not be basking by the river in glorious sunshine today. Our Bankside site would not be home to the thousands of artists, students, audiences, staff, volunteers and community groups who have feverishly swung open our big oak doors in search of what it means to be human.

Sam Wanamaker was fundamentally a political artist who believed strongly that art and politics were two sides of the same coin saying that ‘everything we do has to have a relationship to society and people, otherwise it is not art.’ And even when these beliefs meant that his passport was withdrawn, he fought because of, not in spite of, his refugee status, to ensure we stand here today with a mission to hold the mirror up to nature and provide art, theatre and Shakespeare for all people.

The current restrictions surrounding the pandemic have naturally meant that all of our physical plans have sadly been thwarted. Instead, we’ve decided to take a virtual breath and look back at some of the highlights of Refugee Weeks past, to remember the approximately 80 million people currently displaced all over the world, and to celebrate those artists whose incredible work highlights and amplifies these stories of dislocation, struggle and the search for sanctuary.

The theme of Refugee Week 2021 is We Cannot Walk Alone. As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the world, we have never been more acutely aware of our interdependent, beautiful, delicate, complicated ecosystem, that ‘one touch of nature makes the whole world kin’, and that we absolutely cannot walk alone.

A timber-framed building in front of a blue sky

This year, we’re taking a look at Refugee Weeks past and the incredible artists who have worked at Shakespeare’s Globe.

In 2018, our newly appointed Artistic Director (Michelle Terry) worked with Matilda James (our then Producer), and Sharni Lockwood (Production Co-ordination) to create and curate our first-ever series of work dedicated to Refugee Week. This marked the beginning of our relationship with organisations such as Counterpoints Arts, the national organisation supporting and producing arts by and about migrants and refugees.

Citizens of the World Choir

Citizens of the World Choir is a choir for people who are refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and the wider community of Londoners who express themselves through the power of music and culture. They use their platform to advocate for refugee rights and human rights, whilst creating powerful musical arrangements and performances. Our relationship with them started back in 2018.

This week, COTWC proudly release their first-ever professionally recorded work in collaboration with Composer Tom Donald entitled, Symphony of Voices. A 5 track EP of original music devised and recorded during lockdown using Zoom and WhatsApp voice notes. It is a glorious, celebratory reclamation of light and hope.

A flash mob orchestrated by Citizens of the World Choir pre The Merry Wives of Windsor in 2019. Photographer: Rachel Otterway

Citizens of the World Choir perform in our Foyer during Refugee Week. Photographer: Rachel Otterway

The Strangers’ Case

Shakespeare’s rallying cry for humanity. The Strangers’ Case is believed to be one of the earliest and most impassioned defences of a compassionate refugee policy, and features in the play Sir Thomas More. For Refugee Day 2018, we collaborated with The International Rescue Committee to release a new short film: featuring refugees from Syria, Sierra Leone and South Sudan alongside renowned actors including Kim Cattrall, Lena Headey, Noma Dumezweni and Jamael Westman, in an expression of unity with all those who have fled conflict overseas.

Nanjing: Play

Written and performed by Jude Christian, the powerful monologue Nanjing explored issues around identity, dispossession and the consequences of war, and played in our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in 2018.

Learn more about the play and the events that inspired it with Writer Jude Christian and Director Elayce Ismail on our podcast.

Writer Jude Christian performs their powerful monologue Nanjing in the stunning candlelight of our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photographer: Pete Le May

Dima Karout’s Boarding Pass installation hangs in the Foyer on our Bankside site. Photographer: Sharni Lockwood

Dima Karout: Art Installation

Dima Karout, a mixed visual artist devised and created this poignant boarding pass installation with Globe staff and volunteers through a workshop that consisted of collective short readings reflecting on travelling and crossing borders. The final boarding passes were placed in our Foyer next to the installation, so visitors were able to pick one, write their reflections on it, and add to the symbolic barrier.

Compass Collective and The British Red Cross

With The British Red Cross, Compass Collective and 85 young people from five London boroughs (all of whom were part of the British Red Cross’s Refugees and Befriending Project for young unaccompanied refugees and asylum seekers aged 14–21) used Shakespeare quotations as inspiration to devise a piece about home and the experience of displacement. This was performed in our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as part of Refugee Week 2019.

To actors operate a newspaper puppet on stage.

We’ve proudly worked with Compass Collective since 2019, which saw their first devised performance in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photographer: Claudia Leisinger

We have a very strong relationship with Compass Collective and are really proud to collaborate with them wherever we can. When the pandemic first hit, we created a series called Love In Isolation: short films showcasing some of Shakespeare’s most profound work, performed in isolation by actors from all walks of life. We collaborated with artists Ali, Tala, Mohamed and Massi from Compass Collective, who created their own unique versions of speeches from Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It and King Lear.

Ali, King Lear, Act II, scene 3

Talal, As You Like It, Act II, scene 2

Mohamed, Romeo and Juliet, Act III, scene 3
Massihullah, Hamlet, Act III, scene 2

On The Line was a film created in lockdown by Compass Collective which we streamed from our YouTube channel for World Refugee Day 2020. The short film was created by over 40 young refugees and asylum seekers.

This year, Compass Collective are marking World Refugee Day 2021 with a one-off performance, I’ll see you again. Devised and performed by 15 young refugees and asylum seekers streamed live from the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Our 2019 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by Elle While, was broadcast live from our wooden ‘O’ to cinemas across the UK in collaboration with More2Screen on 20 June for World Refugee Day 2019. Local migrant communities from cities across the country received free tickets to watch the production in their local cinema. This production also included a local community cast featuring members from London Bubble Theatre, Clean Break and Soldiers’ Arts Academy.

A group of actors on the Globe Stage dance a jig together

In 2019, we live streamed The Merry Wives of Windsor for free to migrant communities in cities across the country. Photographer: Helen Murray

Where We Belong

Written and performed by Madeline Sayet, directed by Mei Ann Teo, Where We Belong investigated the impulses that divide and connect us. Inspired by Madeline’s Mohegan ancestors who crossed the Atlantic in the 1700s to protect her people, this solo performance piece explored Madeline’s search for belonging in a globalised world.

Listen to Madeline discuss her work and how art can tell the stories of lived experience of displacement and migration, on our podcast.

Madeline Sayat’s Where We Belong investigated the impulses that divide and connect us. Photographer: Bret Hartman

Good Chance and The Walk

We couldn’t be more excited to be welcoming Little Amal on her epic walk from Turkey to England this October!

Good Chance, in collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company have created the most extraordinary and ambitious project: The Walk – a travelling festival of art and hope in support of refugees. Meeting with over 250 organisational partners across Europe, Little Amal will make the perilous voyage many refugees of all ages have made before her. Crossing land and sea in the hope to find her mother and a new life.

At each stage of Little Amal’s journey, she will be welcomed by artistic and cultural events created by and reflective of the communities she visits, and we cannot wait to see her visit our home on Bankside later this year on Saturday 23 October. Follow her travels on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Three teams of four puppeteers will accompany Little Amal from Turkey to Manchester to celebrate refugees as part of The Walk. Photographer: Bevan Roos