In 2013, Vox Motus’s producer Susannah Armitage brought our attention to a recently published novel, Hinterland by Caroline Brothers. It told the story of two orphaned children making their way on foot from Afghanistan to the UK. And so Aryan and Kabir began to embed themselves in both our conscience and imagination.
Formerly a journalist for Reuters and the New York Times International, Caroline’s novel was shot through with a journalistic rigour. Although Aryan and Kabir are fictitious, every event that happens to them came directly from Caroline’s interviews and encounters with young refugees and asylum seekers across Europe.
When we first read the novel, the story of ‘unaccompanied children’ seeking asylum across Europe felt very under-the-radar. It’s with great sadness that we recently recalled a conversation where, knowing this production was going to take a number of years to become a reality, we wondered if the story would still be pertinent by the time we put our creation out into the world.
But the refugees kept coming, in greater and greater numbers. Getting younger and younger. And the daily headlines in the UK documented this growing refugee crisis daily, often in bold and divisive headlines. We began to wonder if there was space in all of this for the story of our two brothers, practically invisible to the worlds they move through. The larger, political, news-cycle narrative was depressing and overwhelming. We knew we needed to find a storytelling form that would bring this back to the truly personal: just you (the audience), Aryan and Kabir together on a journey.
When we first went to meet Caroline in Paris she took us to a number of locations that feature in the book. We met several young Afghans queuing at a soup kitchen and were immediately struck by their enthusiasm and their resourcefulness. They were on the front foot. They were thinking forward to the next move, the next stop on their journey. Despite the obvious hardships, they did not see themselves as victims.
When we began working with playwright Oliver Emanuel on the adaptation, we approached Aryan and Kabir’s story as a 21st-century odyssey: a long journey marked by many changes of fortune, where the brothers’ encounters conjure images of demons, beasts, allies and deities.
Children are resilient. They are designed to survive. This is the story we wanted to tell: the story of children with remarkable resourcefulness, imagination and stamina. We know no better way to communicate this than as an immersive experience, rich with imaginative, visual storytelling that allows us into the minds of the boys, and celebrates and honours their bravery and determination.
*As of May 2017, the date of its last comprehensive report, the United Nations Children’s Fund counted 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children moving worldwide. These are only the documented cases. Of these, 100,000 asylum seekers applied at the US-Mexico border and 170,000 lone child refugees sought asylum in Europe.