The impressive Scottish accent, the players’ non-hesitant openness to chatting about politics and the topicality of the play itself are only a few aspects of what made the experience of having the “English Touring Company” perform at our school so interesting. On Thursday, 25th May 2017, two Scottish actors visited our school with their play “Just Strangers” within the scope of the project “Theatre @ school”. The company is well known for creating plays addressing hard hitting topics like integration, acceptance and the refugee crisis, as for this year’s play.
The play “Just Strangers” begins in a park. Protagonist Joe comes running into the scene, visibly wounded, seeking shelter from an unknown group of people chasing him.
Next, Hannah, the other main character, walks onto the scene and sits down on a bench. She introduces herself to Joe and tries to start a friendly conversation with him, but Joe does not seem interested at all. He is still scared of the people who followed him and tries to convince Hannah to leave. Instead, Hannah insists on staying and continues to talk to Joe. Eventually, they do engage in a conversation.
Said conversation turns into a heated argument when Hannah, who is Jewish, finds out that Joe is a Syrian refugee and a Muslim. Their arguments against the other are mostly based on stereotypes and prejudices. Soon, they find out that those are false and they slowly start to get to know each other and bond over their interest in music and TV shows, such as Game of Thrones.
When Hannah asks Joe about his injuries, he hesitantly tells her about a group of people that cornered him at school and beat him up. He even mentions that one of them filmed the cruel attack. After that, they threatened him and he had no other choice but to run away and hide in the park. Hannah is shocked about the incident and encourages Joe to speak up about it.
Then, the scene changes and the park turns into the front yard of Hannah’s house. The two main characters meet again, this time because Joe gave an interview about what happened to him, which is about to air on TV. Joe gives Hannah a present, a Syrian scarf, which she gratefully accepts.
Finally, Hannah and Joe go into the house and the play ends with them sitting of the couch, watching TV, holding each other in their arms.
“Just Strangers” takes place in only two settings, being a park and a living area, which is made possible by the creative use and the mobility of the play’s props. Who would have thought that a simple box could be built into a fence? However, the story being told does not lack in alternation nor entertainment due to the talent and the acuteness of the two players. Despite some technical difficulties with the microphones, the actors managed to perfectly portray Hanna and Joe and to additionally incorporate the audience into the play by asking them questions whilst staying in their roles.
After the performance, it was the students’ turn to ask questions regarding the play and the actors themselves but also Brexit, Theresa May and British politics. Due to the players’ cheerful and open attitudes, the conversation between them and the students from grade 11 and 12 turned out to be just as informative and enjoyable as the play. Even the attendant teachers were genuinely impressed by the two Scots’ willingness and courage to make political statements in front of the audience, such as the obsolescence of the British class system, the importance of Scottish independence and the matter of Britain being able to accommodate far more refugees than the number of people they have received up to this point. Furthermore, the actors, who live in Germany for a few months each year in order to perform at German schools, stressed how welcome they feel in Germany and how attentively German students watch their plays in comparison to British children.
If one keeps in mind one aspect of the whole experience, it should definitely be the general meaning of the play: having to overlook society’s expectations and prejudices in order to get to know someone and possibly even find common interests.
Fiona Meyer, Lena Schäfer