Over the past year, the horror of the refugee crisis has been difficult to escape from, as newspapers have published heartbreaking images of families with very young children trying to escape their war-torn countries and risk their lives by travelling hundreds of miles to the UK on an unsteady dingy in the sea, often resulting in people drowning before they could make it to the shores of Europe and to safety.
Joe Murphy, a playwright, watched the unsettling events on television and decided he had to help in some way. He travelled over to Calais and was amazed how the thousands of people living in the 'Jungle' refugee camps had built their own society and were able to still live with hope, despite everything that was happening to them.
He wanted to provide a creative outlet for the people there and so set up Good Chance Theatre with other volunteers and residents of Calais. The theatre group regularly performed plays at the camp, as well as daily kung fu sessions to give everyone there a sense of purpose and fun to their mornings and now their message of hope is being brought to London. 
Joe explains why Good Chance has created Encampment theatre performances and workshops at the Southbank Centre this summer, to give audiences a different perspective of the migrant crisis that is not often reported on.
He says: “In the summer last year, it felt like the world was ending as every newspaper and media outlet was reporting on people crossing European borders and it felt terrifying as it was the greatest mass movement of people since the war.
“I had just finished a play and felt I couldn’t continue just watching so went over to Calais to find out what was going on and talk to people. I wasn’t expecting to stay there but there were nearly 8,000 people living together along with restaurants and kebab shops and barber shops and a whole society and eco system. 
“Despite the terrible conditions, there was hope and I had so many preconceptions about the place and people that I felt it was my duty as a playwright to show that there is more to this story than meets the eye.”
Joe admits he had never spoken to a refugee before travelling to Calais and was overwhelmed at how eye-opening it was for him and so believes Encampment will be a good way for many other people in London to share his experience.
He says: “The theatre over there was a beacon of hope for people in France and I wanted to bring that same energy to London. We’re bringing the same structure and dome that we used and it will be in view of the Houses of Parliament, right in the centre of the city, and bringing together artists of all backgrounds and art forms.
“The crisis last year was such a profound moment and made so many people look up and realise what was happening and even with the recent Brexit, these are very uncertain times and people are understandably worried and troubled and I think art and theatre are places where you come together and listen to each other through music and poetry.
“It a way of looking at the crisis differently to how it is reported in mainstream media and is from the perspective of people who have to flee their old life. We want it to be an open space to give people a chance to see and hear different people’s stories.
“We have artists from Iraq, New Guinea, Lebanon, Cameroon and Afghanistan, as well as a piece called Now We’re Here, which is about gay refugees from Jamaica. There are 110 artists with different perspectives and this is about giving a platform to those individuals and telling their stories.”
Joe believes the theatre has a universal message that people across the world can relate to and so he is hoping to take Encampment to other countries after its London debut.
He explains: “The word refugee, although it is accurate in many cases, conjures up something that is quite difficult to understand at first but really, these refugees are just people. If we can achieve anything by Encampment, it will be from people coming to the theatre and viewing the refugees as people.
“After being in London, we want to rebuild the theatre in Calais and take it round the world. Some of our team at Good Chance have been to Kurdistan and Jordan and we believe theatre should be taken to camps that exist in countries other than Calais, as Jordan, for example, now has more refugees than the native population. 
“There are a lot of problems in the world but there are also a lot of opportunities to help.”
Encampment, Good Chance Theatre, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, SE1 8XX, Saturday July 30 to Sunday August 7. Details: southbankcentre.co.uk

By Rachel Russell