Last minute Calais trip with Complicite

Good Chance or No Chance. These are the words that float amongst the refugees in Calais tipping each other off on the likelihood of getting across to Britain that night. A nightly occurrence for 70% of some 6000 refugees who have taken up camp there. A large dome, acting as a town hall-cum-theatre space has been created by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson and aptly named Good Chance Calais. Joe and Joe asked if Complicite would lead a workshop there; six days later we (Associate Producer Poppy Keeling, Assistant Producer Naomi Webb and I) found ourselves driving to Calais with a car full of donated art supplies and musical instruments.

I had seen images in the media of the camps in Calais and been to others in Beirut but I wasn’t expecting to be so shocked by the site of hundreds of tents – it suddenly felt a whole lot more real. These are real people, really living in these hideous conditions and they’re about to get worse as winter sets in. Seems ridiculous to say that but shit, how can this be happening?

We had been told the Jungle is a hard place. Admittedly, I felt nervous about leading a theatre workshop to a group of tough men – I say tough because that’s what I’m expecting. To live in the camp and attempt to get to Britain every night by holding on to the top of a train, hiding in a lorry or grabbing on under a train, surely you have to be tough? However, when I ask the men in the Good Chance Calais dome to gather round in a circle and see about 30 happy, eager smiles staring back at me I instantly lose the nerves and intimidation I was anticipating.

A good ball game is a great way to start a workshop
A good ball game is a great way to start a workshop

The term workshop is used loosely at Good Chance Calais, with people dropping in and out as they please. It’s located in the Sudanese area of the Jungle, so all the men today happen to be Sudanese; I worry they wont understand my Iraqi dialect, but they do and seem to enjoy the games. It’s perhaps the loudest workshop I’ve ever led, with people dropping in and out as they want – playing instruments, shouting or drawing. Luckily Joe had pre-warned me not to take it personally.
Eventually, more men fill up the dome and an Iraqi guy begins playing an old maqam (arabic melody) on a recorder, which triggers a beautiful silence as everyone watches. He moves onto an accordion which encourages clapping, singing, dancing and one big ruckus jamming session. It’s brilliant!

After a few hours, we zip up the dome and walk around the camp. The rain hasn’t stopped since we left London at 7am; it’s muddy, cold, windy and wet. Tents of all shapes and sizes are everywhere, some improvised huts that make mosques, a library, restaurants, a beautiful church or a tiny ‘medical centre’ if you can call it that. At an estimate it’s 3m x 4m, has few supplies and is the only place to go if you get sick.

The Jungle Book Library
The Jungle Book Library

We have dinner in a crowded Afghan restaurant. It’s a hut with waist-high wooden slabs covered in carpets for seating, full of arabic men smoking and charging their phones in the two power sockets. I’m surprised to see there is an array of stews on offer – meat, chicken or vegetarian, with rice, flat bread and chips. Packed with flavours and spices, it was delicious. I’ve thought about that stew a lot since then!

Our journey back to London was all talk of potential projects Complicite can do with Good Chance Calais……watch this space.

Next stop, Beirut!