This week Fiona Lindsay discusses the nature of estrangement and loss. 

Displacement, isolation, estrangement and loss are common themes in dramatic text and in life. Most of us, at some point or other, experience periods of time when we feel outside ourselves and uncertain of the path ahead. This sense of dislocation is emotionally and physically disabling and the struggle to push through to a place of certainty can throw into acute perspective the things that matter to you.

Last Sunday the National Theatre presented a fundraising performance for the United Nations Refugee Agency. This was an afternoon of words from playwrights and poets; including David Edgar, Richard Bean, Bertolt Brecht and W.H Auden and it left the audience in the Lyttelton Theatre silenced.

None of the pieces referred directly to the pressing humanitarian crisis in Syria, but that's where we collectively travelled. Theatre is at its most powerful and political when it takes on the world like this. Armed with words and language, playwrights and performers can dent and prick the public consciousness and hopefully motivate action.

In a piece by Stephanie Dale, a displaced woman called Zada quietly asked – “Why is this my life and not yours?” She was devastated to face the prospect of death in a border camp and not in her homeland. She felt ashamed that this was her life. “Why is this my life and not yours?” Her pain was etched in this simple question.

The occasion on Sunday was a profound education in the value of the small things in life; the things we mostly have the privilege of taking for granted - home, family, safety. We are the lucky ones. Today an unprecedented 59.5 million people are displaced around the world - more than half of these being children. These are people whose lives have been shaped by war, fear and loss; people forced to flee their homes because of persecution, conflict or violence.

Leaving the National on Sunday, when all we had to complain about was the short, cold walk to the tube, I wondered how the evening could have a wider impact? Occasions like that - quiet protests that make you think- need to be more commonplace. Theatres across the land should join forces to get under the skin of the decision makers to ignite change. Over the next four years the government is sanctioning the entry of 20,000 displaced people. A paltry few. What if this was their family, their lives?

Moving stories need to be heard in theatres and beyond and we must ensure that we play our part in telling them.

 

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Today we publish an interview with the actor Eugene O'Hare, who plays Austin in True West.