"Why did you leave?": The London play that unpicks intergenerational questions on immigration

·2-min read
"Why did you leave?": The London play that unpicks intergenerational questions on immigration

To mark World Refugee Day 2022, Euronews Culture is telling the stories of refugee artists and performers in Europe.

Why did you leave?

A question that every immigrant parent must face at one time or another and one which, according to writer Mamet Leigh, they are often unprepared to answer.

Leigh’s new play ‘Give Me the Sun’ explores the struggle over this very issue between an Egyptian father and son living in London.

Baba, once a doctor in Egypt, now works in Tesco. His son Bashir plays basketball with his friends and wonders what his home country was like and what has taken place there since the Arab Spring.

“It discusses some ideas about identity, integration, some unsaid words that they never discussed,” says Leigh.

“It is about the second and third generation and how they feel connected to their home country, it is a little bit more complicated for them.”

The play, showing in July at the Blue Elephant theatre in London, sets out to explore the meaning of home for immigrant families, as well as shed a light on the lives of immigrants for European audiences.

As a writer, Leigh feels a responsibility to discuss this as he can draw on his own experiences as a refugee from Iran.

“It is really important to show ideas like that. There is more responsibility for us to discuss it because we know about it and some others don’t, they haven’t experienced it.

“British people and western European people just see immigrants. I want to give a different view really, to everybody about life in the UK and life in Europe ... There is nothing wrong, I love it here. It is just a different view.”

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Mamet Leigh in rehearsal - CNC

Although Leigh left Iran in 2013 and the characters in ‘Give Me the Sun’ are Egyptian, the play aims to transcend a Middle Eastern experience of immigration.

“It is not about Africa, the Middle East or South Asia, it is about whoever immigrated to another country,” says Leigh.

“I read it with Albanians and they felt connected. It is about anyone who comes here, grows up and struggles to understand where home is.”

Leigh is hopeful that the play will portray universal themes of home, identity and the challenges of integration onstage.

Even though the background of the father and son is never explicitly mentioned on stage, Leigh believes they must be refugees.

“The lifestyle they have and discuss … it can’t be anything else as a backstory.”

He points out that barriers to integration are bigger for refugees, as those people who come to a new country on work visas or to study already have structures in place to enter society.

Above all ‘Give Me The Sun,’ will explore the ramifications of immigration which are passed down the generations.

“Even if you’re the happiest person in this new life you’re never 100% happy as an immigrant,” says Leigh.

World Refugee Day was started by the UN in 2001, on the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It is designed to honour refugees from around the world.

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