Stage Tuesday, May 16th

This Hay Festival play tells the story of empty chairs and child refugees

Stage Tuesday, May 16th

This Hay Festival play tells the story of empty chairs and child refugees

The #3000chairs campaign was the reverberating response to the publication of The Day The War Came, a poem penned by Nicola Davies after she heard the story of a refugee child being turned away from a school because there weren’t enough chairs. 

It saw hundreds of artists, illustrators, and authors responding to news that the UK government had withdrawn its pledge to take in 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees by flooding social media with pictures of empty chairs.

Twelve months later, it's still echoing.

At the Hay Festival this month, Hereford College of Arts (HCA) students will perform 3000 Chairs, a new play based on Davies' poem. It is being staged in collaboration with Herefordshire-based Open Sky Theatre Company.

Sounding powerful enough on paper let alone performance, the play is described as an uplifting and immersive show about a refugee child and the extraordinary power of kindness.

HCA illustration student Andrew Graham has designed a set that uses overhead projector and live-drawing, a clever call back to the campaign equally inspired by Davies' words.

Costumes have been designed by textile design student Megan Swancott, and it'll be performed in front of a Hay Festival audience on May 29 and 31 by HCA's first year BA Performance Arts students.

Directed by Open Sky's creative director and founder Claire Coaché, it aims to show how war affects the lives of ordinary people all over the world and has been written in way that's accessible to anyone over the age of nine.

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Above: Hereford College of Arts BA Performing Arts students in rehearsals for 3000 Chairs.

"We were keen to portray this as a story of something that could happen to anyone, anywhere," said HCA's Performance Arts degree course leader Gillian Hipp.

"Whilst it’s a very challenging subject, it has a hopeful resolution."

"Children see things in a very moral, black and white sort of way, which is why the piece ends as it does," added Davies, who has also been involved.

"Children simply want to help, they must help and they must act."

Writing in the Guardian when The Day The War Came was first published, Davies said the story of a refugee child being turned away from school had "melded with all the other things" she'd heard about the plight of refugee children.

"I heard a story about a child turning up at a school near a refugee camp and being turned away because there was no chair for her. She came back the next day with a broken chair and asked again. The ideas and images have been running in my blood like a fever."

It was the April 2016 vote on taking in lone children from Syria that lead to the poem, which lead to empty chair pictures, which lead to the play.

"I couldn’t ignore the story burning in my veins," said Davies.

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Both performances of 3000 Chairs sold out within just a few days of their release. 

For the full Hay Festival programme, head to hayfestival.com.

For more about Open Sky's current shows, visit openskyahead.co.uk.

Tile and banner image: Rob Biddulph's #3000Chairs illustration. See more of Rob's work at robbiddulph.com.

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