Kabosh is a company on a mission to challenge the very notion of what theatre is. Their latest play Lives in Translation sold out the Belfast Festival in 2017 and is back for another run. It hones in on the survival instinct of one woman as she navigates conflict and gets stuck in the suffocating bureaucratic purgatory of the asylum process. Rosemary Jenkinson shared some thoughts about the production with Patrick McCusker.
Thanks for agreeing to talk to rabble. For those of our readers who havn’t heard of Lives In Translation, how would you describe it?
I’d describe it as a play about asylum seekers. It’s a play from Somalia and it’s a play about the whole world. It’s about how you can come from Somalia to London to Dublin to Belfast. I think it’s a big vast portrait of what’s happening in the world, especially for asylum seekers.
We’re definitely living through one of the biggest movements of people in history, possibly the biggest.
Yeah, I can’t think of anything like it, except maybe the evolution of man.
You’re going back a bit there.
I’m going back quite a long time! It’s just such a great movement of human beings, especially from Africa. I’ve been there a bit and I’ve been thinking about it.
What was the genesis of the play?
The genesis of the play was that I had seen a small play by Terra Nova Theatre Company called The Rivals. And I thought that I wanted to write a much bigger play about asylum seekers. I just thought “This is what I want to write about.”
At the same time I had a friend who was working as a translator. She was translating from French for an asylum seeker who was being kept prisoner in Belfast. It was very difficult to know if this asylum seeker was telling the truth, and there was a lot to go into with regards to the story before she came here. It got me thinking that there was a lot for translators to think about, and translation was something I really wanted to write about.
This play marks a very drastic departure from your previous work, which you described in The Irish Times last year as being largely rooted in your time teaching abroad and your return to Belfast afterwards. Why the move towards a tale of three countries and four cities then?
Yes, I think I was talking more about short stories at that time. But actually my plays are very much Belfast-centric so it is very interesting to do something that’s more epic. You do sometimes get bored of mining the same small topics and you need something wider with more colour. That’s what we bring into the play. There’s more dancing, more movement. Some of it’s based on Muslim washing rituals. It was really culturally interesting to go outside the boundaries of this country.
And I suppose it provides a new creative challenge, especially when you’re working with the same actors and directors?
Yeah, sometimes you get quite tired doing plays about “what is post-conflict”.
It’s really nice to move away. It’s a different conflict and it’s nice to compare theirs to ours.
Are there any interesting insights from that?
One of the characters she meets in Belfast and who she has the closest links to is an ex-paramilitary. He has gone away from violence, and they’ve actually both lost a brother in a war. And that’s really how an African asylum seeker can make huge links with our country. It was just an interesting feel to it.
As far as insights go, they have interesting things to say. They call gunfire “Mogadishu music”. I found they have the same black humour in the Somali community.
What else can you do?
What’s your big hope with regards to Live In Translation’s time on the road?
My big hope is that people enjoy my writing, the acting, the staging. It’s very pertinent to the South, because the character is in Mosney. It’s very relevant and I hope the audience really connects and understands the trauma of the asylum-seeking process.
Dublin folks can check the play out in the Civic Theatre in Tallaght on Tuesday 27th & Wednesday 28th February at 8pm. Full details here.