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Thought-provoking novel adapted for the stage
A stage version of Birmingham poet Benjamin Zephaniah's powerful novel Refugee Boy is enjoying a critically acclaimed tour around the UK. It arrives in Benjamin's hometown on April 8 and plays the city centre Rep Theatre until April 12.
Birmingham poet: Benjamin Zephaniah
Adapted for the stage by Lemn Sissay, the gripping tale charts one boy's courageous fight for recognition in a realistic but hopeful picture of the challenges facing a young refugee alone in a strange country.
Fourteen-year-old Alem is on holiday in London with his parents when civil war breaks out in his homeland of Ethiopia. Alem's Ethiopian father and Eritrean mother make the heartbreaking decision to leave him in Britain, on his own, but, they hope, safe at last.
Guided by the Refugee Council and social services the youngster's new life brings with it new challenges, from court hearings to children's homes to life changing friendships and loving foster families.
Fisayo Akinado is Alem is Refugee Boy (pic: Keith Pattison)
''At the heart of it, it's a play about a human condition that you hear about on the news, but that not all of us are familiar with - it tends to be talked about in terms of statistics nowadays,'' explains 55-year-old Benjamin who moved from Birmingham to London at the age of 22.
He adds that the book was inspired by real life experiences.
''The story of Refugee Boy came from the story of a lot of other refugees living next door to me in East London; only after I wrote it did I do research to check I'd got the court procedures right. I wrote it from what 14-15 year old kids were telling me.''
He says the play has had a profound effect on those who have seen it.
''It was really moving to feel the response and emotion coming from the audience,'' he reveals. ''I saw it a couple of times and everybody commented on how mixed the audience was; the age range, the nationality range - there were lots of refugees themselves. For me one of the most moving parts was that on one night there were two women hugging and talking in the corner. One was from Ethiopia and one was from Eritrea - they were on opposite sides of the war fighting but here they were together. It brings people together.''