Syed Haleem Najibi has shared his experiences of his journey from Afghanistan to the UK as an unaccompanied minor in productions with Phosphoros Theatre, which was created to tell refugee stories. He tells Giverny Masso about Phosphoros Theatre’s latest show Pizza Shop Heroes…
Tell me about the productions you have done with Phosphoros…
The first show I did was called Dear Home Office. It was about the journey we had taken to get to the UK as unaccompanied minors. It was about fighting the system and the hostile environment of the Home Office. We talk about what it’s like to have meetings with social workers and things such as going to the doctors. I was a bit nervous at first, performing in my fifth language – it was a challenge. The next show was Dear Home Office: Still Pending, which is about how we live in the UK and the challenges we have faced as unaccompanied minors. It’s all based on our experiences.
What is Pizza Shop Heroes about?
This year there are five actors, whereas in the previous years there were 10. This show is more about exploring what the future will be like for us: how we live in the present, future and past. This kind of theatre is really important. We’ve had to tell our stories to our solicitors and in court many times, but here we take centre stage and tell our stories the way we want. We’re not trying to prove our claim, we’re just trying to explain to people that we are normal human beings, we have a life like everyone else and it’s important to show that.
What have audience reactions been like?
The feedback we get is amazing, we have a lot of refugee audiences. We performed at the Bunker and 80 refugees came across two performances. We talked to everyone after the show, it’s important for those people to give them encouragement and pride. That’s the thing we love the most about doing this.
What has been your biggest challenge as a performer?
Sometimes where we have an asylum claim going on and we are doing the show at the same time, that has been a challenge. When we went to the Edinburgh Fringe I had a phone call from my social worker saying I needed to declare myself as homeless – just before I went on stage. Every single one of us has issues, but we don’t let those affect us when we are performing. We have had challenges that we have overcome.
What are your future plans?
I want to be an engineer and I’m hoping to reach university next year. I would love to carry on doing this work as well as engineering. We are touring this show to Malta in February as we were invited by the president to perform at a conference about child migrants.
First professional role: Dear Home Office, The Bunker, London (2016)
Pizza Shop Heroes is at Derby Theatre on February 2, and tours until October 5