James brings true and fictional asylum seeker stories to Sheffield theatre

Edd Bower and Suzanne Celensu in new play Paradise Road
Edd Bower and Suzanne Celensu in new play Paradise Road
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A Sheffielder whose father had an amazing wartime escape from the Nazis has looked at modern-day tale of asylum seekers in his new play.

James Stone, an associate director of theatre company Tales Retold, said his interest in the story was sparked by people at the height of the recent Syrian refugee crisis who said they wanted to open their own homes up to asylum seekers.

“I thought what would that be like in reality? It’s a nice idea.

“Two of my characters are a couple who open up their home to asylum seekers and the other two characters are from Iraq.

“What emerged wasn’t quite what I’d planned, what emerged was a thriller. The people are not quite what they seem. There’s a lot of suspicion from the get-go.”

James said that he was keen for the real stories of asylum seekers to be heard alongside the play.

Assist, a Sheffield charity that works with asylum seekers who find themselves destitute when their initial claims are rejected, will join James on the Saturday night performance for a short question and answer session with James.

He said: “They read the script and were impressed with it. We’re using performances to raise awareness of what they’re doing.”

He wanted to strike a balance between a fictional story and real lives: “It’s not the sort of play that encourages you to open up your homes or country to asylum seekers.

“They’re very human, just like us, and just as capable of generosity and goodwill and just as capable of being deceitful and selfish.”

James said that in his play, no-one is quite what they seem.

“We have these stereotypical ideas deciding which side of the fence you are on. There is a fear of someone who is coming to destroy your way of life or you see people as innocent victims of a conflict thrown out of their homes, so we should help them.

“I just wanted to get underneath them to a three-dimensional human being, very similar to us.”

James’s father was a refugee from Czechoslovakia in 1938, when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland.

He said that his father’s escape was “like the Sound of Music. His father was Jewish and his parents divorced before the war.

“His mother married an Englishman, Mr Stone, but he’d never been to England. You could register births with the British consulate for generations but still have British citizenship. He spoke English with a German accent.

“ They realised the writing was on the wall and left the day the Germans arrived.

“They drove through Berlin on Hitler’s birthday to get out.

“They stuck a Union flag on the front of the car to make it look like a diplomatic car.”

James’s family settled in Sheffield and his father ran a steel firm.

The former High Storrs pupil from Sharrow said: “We are part of the fabric of the city. It’s a shame for so many asylum seekers that they can’t work immediately.”

Paradise Road is at the Library Theatre, Sheffield on April 20 and 21. For tickets, go to www.paradise-road.eventbrite.co.uk