The Scar Test by Hannah Khalil is a new play which depicts the controversial and unsettling conditions faced by women at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.

Opening during Refugee Week on 21 June at The Place in Bedford – 7 miles from Yarl’s Wood the play transfers to Soho Theatre London from Wednesday 5 July

Directed by Sara Joyce, the cast includes Janet Etuk, Nadia Nadif, Shazia Nicholls, Rebecca Omogbehin and Lucy Sheen. #TBB10 spoke to Rebecca Omogbehin to discuss the importance of this play…

1# When you got the script for this play what made you say yes?

I enjoy working on projects that entertain, challenge your thinking and open you up to a subject matter you might not be familiar with. When I read The Scar Test by Hannah Khalil, this did exactly that! I knew almost nothing about Yarl’s Wood, shamefully, and after reading the script I could not believe this was happening in the UK today. I immediately wanted to be part of telling this untold story in theatre.

2# Tell us a bit about your character who she is and what’s her motivation in the story?

It is an ensemble piece where we all play multiple characters. Out of the four characters I play we see Tired Lady the most. She is seeking refuge in the UK and what she wants most is to finally be safe. As we follow the story of her time in Yarl’s Wood, we slowly see her realising something is very wrong with the way she and the other detainees are being treated. She is doing all she can to ensure she is not deported as going home is not in any way safe for her. However, she is also determined to find a way to get out of Yarl’s Wood.

3# What made you connect with her and what inspiration did you draw on to develop her voice / personality?

Her strength and dignity, and as rehearsals have progressed I have connected with her even more. I have come to realise, although she is, and has been, in a vulnerable situation and is cautious when meeting people, she refuses to be a victim, this goes for all the detainee characters. She has been through so much yet refuses to give up and still speaks up on the injustice at Yarl’s Wood. To develop her voice and personality I drew inspiration from my Grandmother. Although my character is much younger, my grandma has that same poised composure which comes through in the way she speaks and carries herself.

4# This is such a timely narrative, how important is it that you are involved with productions that are politically and socially conscious?

Yes, it is! Although it is important to entertain, as this is theatre, there are political and social issues that are not widely known, so it is great to be part of something that raises awareness and entertains!

5# Did you do any personal research in preparing for this role – did you speak with immigrants, or visit Yarl’s Wood or detention centres, or were you given material to work from?

As part of my personal research, I read articles about detainees giving their account of what life was like in Yarl’s Wood. I also read and watched stories of people who fled extreme violence in their home country. This was to get an understanding of what it was like for them to leave everything behind and build a life elsewhere. We were also given great a research pack (by the Artistic Director of Untold Arts, Nadia Nadiff, who also stars in the show and from producer Molly McGee) on Yarl’s Wood and on the Yarl’s Wood Befriender charity, which was set up to offer emotional and practical support to the detainees.  This included interviews with detainees, Befrienders and professionals who had worked at Yarl’s Wood. We also had an active Yarl’s Wood Befriender come in and speak to us who was also detained at Yarl’s Wood for a short while. Also a previous Yarl’s Wood detainee who had been detained for 2 years spoke with us about her time at Yarl’s Wood. The writer, Hannah Khalil, had already done extensive research when writing the play. It was important for us all to take just as much care in fully understanding the world of Yarl’s Wood and basing rehearsals on a firm foundation with thorough research.

Photo credit: William Henry Scott

6# How have rehearsals been going and how are you getting on with the rest of the cast?

Rehearsals have been going great! We all get along so well and care about the subject matter so much and it shines through in the production. It’s a wonderful team and I’m grateful to be part of it.

7# Is there anyone you’ve worked with before across the cast and production team?

I have worked with Zoe Spurr, who is our lighting designer, so it is great to be reunited with her again.

8# Reflecting on your acting journey, what has been the most impactful project you’ve been involved in – how and why?

The Scar Test has been very impactful for me as it exposed me to something I knew nothing of but now care about, and has got me thinking about how I can help beyond the show. Again I could not believe how hidden this world was and it made me further question how we treat people who are seeking refuge in the UK. However, it’s very hard to pick as I genuinely feel I have been impacted by all the projects I have been fortunate enough to be a part of. I have always learnt something new or been challenged in my way of thinking. Crowning Glory also had a personal influence on me. Written by Somalia Seaton, it addresses how mainstream ideas of beauty affect how we see ourselves and others, and provoked you to challenge those ideas and decide for yourself what beauty means to you.

9# What’s next for you after this play run ends?

Although I do not have anything confirmed just yet, I look forward to working on more thought provoking projects like The Scar Test.

10# What do you hope people take away from this play?

A clear understanding that what is happening in Yarl’s Wood is happening now. I also hope the audience leave feeling motivated to evoke change and for people to want to find out more about Yarl’s Wood for themselves.

The Scar Test runs at Soho Theatre from Wednesday 5th – Saturday 22nd July 2017. Find out more and book tickets here.