First performed at the Young Vic on 15th July 2009
1. INTRODUCTION In 2007 The Container, by Clare Bayley, was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In 2009, it was restaged by the Young Vic and Amnesty International.
The play told the story of a group of asylum seekers being smuggled across Europe and into the UK inside a locked shipping container. The production took place inside a real container parked outside on The Cut with a small audience locked inside for the duration.
This resource pack is designed to accompany the film of the production which is available to watch on request1. The pack contains insights into the creative process behind the production, with interviews and practical exercises you can use in Drama lessons, as well as background material and lesson ideas which can be used to explore the issues of the piece in PSHE.
2. SYNOPSISScene 1
A group of asylum seekers are locked inside a shipping container, on the back of a lorry, driving through Europe, hoping to make it to the UK in order to claim asylum. They are a Somali woman, Fatima; her young ‘daughter’, Asha; Afghan businessman Ahmad; and a young Turkish Kurd, Jemal. They have been travelling for a number of days with no food and little water. With only torches to see by, they have no idea where in Europe they are, or even whether it is day or night. Tensions are already forming between them.
The container stops and they hide, fearing that the vehicle may be searched by the police and hoping that it is the agent, who they paid to smuggle them into Britain, finally bringing them the food he promised. Instead, the door is opened and a young Afghan woman, Mariam, is thrown on board. The door is locked behind her and the lorry begins to move again.
Fatima, Ahmad and Jemal try to get food and information from Mariam; when it is revealed that she is from Afghanistan, Ahmad tries to use her as an ally against the others. It is evident that there has been a lot of bickering in the container on the journey so far. Mariam tells them that they are in northern Italy, about to enter France, meaning they only have two or three more days to go. She gives them what little food she has.
Fatima talks about how wonderful the UK and London will be, where she will be re-united with her son. Jemal pours scorn on her dreams. Ahmad reveals that he left Afghanistan because the fighting there has made it impossible to run a business. He asks why Mariam is travelling alone; she tells him her husband was killed. She has been feeling increasingly unwell and vomits; Ahmad and Fatima are terrified of being infected and furious with her for bringing illness into the container. Asha is the only one who goes to help her by cleaning her up. Fatima orders her to stop and hold up the cloth to hide Fatima while she uses the bucket which is all they have by way of a toilet. Ahmad and Jemal go to sleep complaining of the stink of vomit and excrement.
A light flashes on in the darkness; Asha is shining it on Mariam, everyone else is asleep. Mariam wakes up and the two talk. Asha tells her that Fatima is her Auntie, not her mother; she travels with her because her parents died and her elder sister, Salma, was raped and killed by men with guns. Salma left behind a young baby but Asha was unable to keep it alive. She explains that she is very quiet when Fatima is awake, but while she is asleep she goes through people’s belongings: Jemal has food, Ahmad has money and Mariam has a gun. She has also guessed that Mariam is pregnant, rather than ill. Mariam is scared that the others will learn her secret and Asha placates her by revealing a secret of her own: a tribal leader has given her a letter to the Queen of England recommending Asha for a position as a servant.
Though not wishing to undermine Asha’s naïve faith, Mariam encourages Asha to think beyond being a servant and to focus on getting an education. Mariam and her husband were teachers. They taught girls until the Taliban found out and executed her husband. She carried on teaching the girls in secret but again the Taliban found out and she fled before they could kill her. She tells Asha that this is why it is important for girls to study and that in the UK she will get an education.
Jemal suddenly reveals that he has been listening to some of the conversation and mocks Asha for her dream of working with the Queen of England. Ahmad wakes too and also makes fun of her. Finally Fatima wakes up and the two men agree that they won’t reveal to Fatima their knowledge of the letter, at least for a while.
Fatima and Jemal start to argue; she accuses him of being in league with the agent since he speaks the same language (Turkish) and knows a lot about the journey to the UK. He reveals that his knowledge comes from two previous attempts to enter the UK, and that he hates the Turks for oppressing the Kurdish people.
The lorry suddenly stops; again, some of them fear capture. Mariam was caught in a previous lorry and almost forced into prostitution, and she begins to panic. The door opens and the agent arrives with water. His speech is confusing, but gradually the travellers realise that something is wrong. There is a problem with the driver - he is worried about the huge fines or prison sentence which EU countries give to people-smugglers. Finally the agent tells them that they must pay the driver $50 each or be left behind. Ahmad caves in first and pays but the others refuse. Jemal persuades the agent to leave so he can get the money from the others.
With the agent gone, Jemal explains that if one of them were to leave the container, that person might be seen, placing all of them in danger. Fatima pays for herself but forces Asha to beg Ahmad and Jemal to pay for her. They accuse Fatima of having enough money to pay, but she says she gave away her last valuable item, a ring she had hoped to give to her son, in return for safe passage out of Somalia. Finally, Jemal cracks and pays, saying he has a wife and young daughter in the UK and has to get back to them.
Now they turn to Mariam; she has no money either. Jemal either can’t pay, or refuses to pay again, and Ahmad continues to refuse, even though they all know he has the money, saying that they should leave Mariam behind so she can be treated at a hospital. Jemal grabs Ahmad, ready to hit him, but Mariam intervenes.
When asked if she has anything of value, Mariam takes out the gun. Ahmad panics and for a moment she is tempted to turn the situation to her advantage, but instead she gives the gun to Jemal and asks him to offer it to the agent in exchange for her passage.
The agent returns and is unimpressed with the gun. He suggests that instead Mariam pay the driver in a different way; ‘You are a refugee woman. You know how to pay.’ Asha reveals that Mariam is pregnant. Everyone is horrified, but the agent says that it doesn’t show. Mariam is finally forced to beg Ahmad to pay for her but he still refuses. Asha declares that Fatima still has the ring for her son and begs her to give it for Fatima. Fatima claims that Asha is insane. Finally, Mariam is forced out of the container.
Asha becomes extremely distressed, confusing Mariam with her sister, Salma, and blaming Fatima, who suddenly slaps her. Asha goes on to say that Fatima’s son abused her, and that Fatima only keeps her as a servant. Finally, Jemal manages to calm Asha down by reminding her of her letter to the Queen and her future in London. She falls asleep, exhausted.
Jemal goes to listen at the door of the Container and hears Mariam scream. He pounds on the door but Ahmad restrains him and reminds him of his need to get to England. Jemal gives in.
Some time later the agent has entered and given them food. He explains that the container is going to be put on the Eurostar and tells them what they must do when they arrive in the UK; claim asylum from the first person they see and make sure that they give no details of their journey. As he is leaving Asha stops him to ask what happened to Mariam. He tells her not to worry about it and leaves, locking them in.
Jemal tells them the agent is right; they have to be careful what they say to UK immigration. He grew up in the UK, but was sent back to Turkey because it was deemed safe for Kurds. He struggled to get back to his young family but each time was sent back. This time he will claim to be from Iraq and will enter that way.
They hear clanking. They sit and wait. Are they on the Eurostar, heading to the UK? Or have they been left somewhere, locked in, to starve to death?