Leicester , United Kingdom

Asylum Dialogues


June 18, 2009

Exploring human rights stories through theatre performance.

Asylum seeking woman: [thinking] She asked a few questions, so I told her about being in detention…
Ticket Inspector:
Do we do this in Britain? Do we lock people like you up? And babies?
Asylum seeking woman: Yes, in places like Yarl’s Wood [removal centre].
Ticket Inspector: My God. What did you do again?
Asylum seeking woman: Nothing. I came to Britain to ask for asylum, but I was refused.
Ticket Inspector: I thought prisons were for people who were criminals or something. I’m so, so sorry…

This interchange comes from Asylum Dialogues, performances that show acts of solidarity between British people towards asylum seekers by the theatre company iceandfire. The dialogues incorporate real conversations between three couples, one asylum seeker, and one British citizen and document the positive transformations created by their encounters.

Asylum Dialogues was launched for Refugee Week 2008 in conjunction with a national British charity, Refugee Action. In 2008 the tour included Derby, London, Liverpool and Bristol. This year, the tour is going to seven of the ten British Cities of Sanctuary: Swansea, Norwich, Oxford, Bristol, Sheffield, Leicester, and London. The partnership between IceandFire and Cities of Sanctuary made sense as they both aim to recognize and strengthen the solidarity between British people and asylum seekers.  Iceandfire bring Actors for Human Rights, and the Cities of Sanctuary bring the audience.

The Leicester City of Sanctuary estimates that there are at least 2,000 asylum seekers in Leicester, 25% of which are destitute. Asylum Dialogues aims to raise awareness about human rights concerns among the public such as destitution, in addition to personalizing the experiences of being an asylum seeker in Britain.

As a theatre group, their audience can be larger and more diverse than traditional campaigning organizations, potentially reaching members of the public who might be  unaware or apathetic to refugee and asylum issues. One audience member of the 2008 tour commented that the performance was, “enlightening, amazing, heart-wrenching, exactly the kind of truth that should be presented on the British stage today.”


Iceandfire is a theatre company that explores human rights stories through performance across four work strands: production, outreach, education and participation. It was established in London in 2003 by playwright Sonja Linden. The outreach arm of iceandfire is their Actors for Human Rights, which was established in 2006 to replicate the success the original Actors for Human Rights in Melbourne, Australia.

It began as a handful of actors, made through contacts of iceandfire. Christine Bacon, co-Artistic Director commented, “Some actors have told us that they had no understanding of what the asylum system was like until the reading… and then they become ambassadors.” Through word of mouth the network has grown to over 400 professional actors and musicians who contribute their skills voluntarily.

Actors for Human Rights’ flagship performance was the Asylum Monologues, which presented testimonies of people’s experiences with the UK asylum system. They were intertwined with public opinion, political statements and statistical fact.  An audience member from Oxford remarked on the effect of the performance, “It really brought home just how easy it is to demonise asylum seekers and just how ignorant a lot of people are about the issues, including myself.”

Since June 2006, over 20,000 people have seen the work and 91% of the audience members have said that seeing Asylum Monologues has encouraged them to become more actively involved in asylum and refugee issues. As well, the response from the people who have shared their stories of asylum has been universally positive. Other refugees and asylum seekers have likewise given Actors for Human Rights their encouragement and support, recognizing a bit of their own experience in the stories.

See 13 minute sample video of Asylum Dialogues; click here.

Making it Work for You:

  • Targeting for audience: Consider less traditional media to communicate your campaign.
  • For example, theatre and performance appeals to a wide audience as it includes general theatre-goers (and their friends) and people already sympathetic to the issues at hand.
  • Theatre is one of many ways to call attention to pressing issues and influence public opintion. What other opportunities are present in your community?
  • Value spontaneity: Actors don't necessarily need days of rehearsal to deliver a stellar performance. Members can contribute less than five hours of their evening by showing up to the venue and reading their parts.