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“Do We Look Like Refugees?!” – a verbatim show that won Edinburgh Fringe First Award 2010 is performed at Tbilisi International Theatre Festival

Tuesday, October 5
On September 30 UK playwright Alecky Blythe’s play Do We Look Like Refugees?! returned to Georgia for the International Tbilisi Theatre Festival after an extraordinary run at the Edinburgh Festival where it won Fringe First 2010, the Fringe Review ‘Outstanding Theatre Award’ and the Stage newspaper’s 'Best Ensemble Award'.

The play is part of the wider Theatre Partnership Project between the Rustaveli Theatre and the UK’s famous National Theatre, facilitated by the British Council and supported by BP.

“It’s thanks to the British Council reviving a longstanding partnership between the UK’s National Theatre and Georgia’s Rustaveli Theatre back in 2008 that the play, which deals with the pain of Georgia’s recent past, came about. Alecky’s play tells the story of the plight of Georgians who lost their homes after the 2008 August War with Russia.” – said Paul Doubleday, Briitsh Council Director South Caucasus.

The idea of creating the verbatim show was born in spring 2009 with the aim of offering a completely innovative theatre form that would be different and challenging to the Georgian audiences as well as to the theatre professionals. In autumn 2009, Alecky Blythe, a leading practitioner of verbatim theatre in the UK was invited to Georgia. Alecky Blythe visited the settlements in Gori and Tserovani to record conversations of Internally Displace Persons (IDPs).She edited these conversations into a rough cut. As a result, Do We Look like Refugees?! was ready to be premiered at the Rustaveli Theatre Experimental Hall on 6 December 2009.

The stories of Georgian IDPs are told by five actors who give stunning performances which transcend any barriers of language or culture to connect us directly with the refugees. On the headsets are edited recordings of interviews. The majority of the piece is in Georgian with subtitles. Folksongs punctuate the interviews. The songs stand alone, untranslated, but their meaning is clear.

Shortly afterwards, the Beyond Borders Festival, which works with artists from smaller nations that have been caught up in conflict, took interest in the verbatim piece with the aim of offering Do We Look like Refugees?! a platform at the Edinburgh 2010 Theatre Festival. Beyond Borders representatives contacted Paul Doubleday, the British Council Director South Caucasus, whose recommendations were decisive in selecting the show for the Festival.

During the 23 shows at the Edinburgh Festival 2000 people attended the show. Do We Look like Refugees?! was acclaimed as a powerful piece of verbatim theatre – “outstanding, stunning with virtuoso performances.” It received a number of 5-star reviews.

What is striking about this verbatim piece is that it is a tangible result of the British Council project that moved out of the limits of bi-literal co-operation of the Rustaveli Theatre and the National Theatre. It builds the capacity in the whole Georgian arts sector and positions the British Council well to deliver a large scale arts projects that have the ability to open the door for further and deeper cultural engagement, new work exchange with new audiences around the world using a variety of new partnership approaches which are capable of being scaled up and replicated elsewhere.

This week the play returned to Georgia where on September 30, October 1 and 7 it is performed at the Rustaveli Theatre.

“So, as the title asks, do we look like refugees? – a rhetorical question, but a question which was asked by one of the internally displaced people interviewed. Their story confirms their hopes and dreams for a better future.” – commented Paul Doubleday, British Council Director South Caucasus.