Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Winnie Imara and Tamsin Newlands: Heard

By | Published on Sunday 28 October 2018

If you’re a regular reader of TW London, you may, during the last week or two, have noticed that we’re rather enthusiastic about the No Direction Home festival exploring displacement, migration and refuge, which is taking place at Camden People’s Theatre at the moment.

One of the many shows on as part of the strand that jumped out at us was ‘Heard’, which focuses on the experiences of two women trapped in a detention centre.

To find out more about the show, and the team behind it, I spoke to writers and performers Winnie Imara and Tamsin Newlands.

CM: Can you start by telling me a bit about the narrative of the play – what is the story it tells?
WI&TN: ‘Heard’ is about two women who meet in a detention centre, and who form a close friendship during their struggles against a system which works to silence them. In our play we address the issues of indefinite detention in the UK, the threat of deportation and the treatment of vulnerable people whilst being detained and the lack of care.

CM: What would you say are the primary themes of the piece?
WI&TN: Sisterhood, friendship, identity, survival and freedom.

CM: What made you want to create a play focusing on this subject and these themes? What was the inspiration?
WI&TN: It started being about two women and their journey. We wanted audiences to see beyond them being just immigrants. We wanted people to see that they were intelligent, that they had ambitions and were like every other young woman in the UK. The only difference is that they are restricted by a system which labels and detains them.

CM: Would you say it’s got a political aim? Do you think it’s possible for art to effect change?
WI&TN: Yes, it definitely does. I (Winnie) believe once the show goes out and more people know about it, this will lead to there being more conversations around an issue not many people know about. The UK is the only European
country to implement indefinite detention. This means there is no time limit for how long someone is detained. There is already a strong campaign for there to be a 28 day limit. If we can spread the word to support this campaign then art can absolutely effect change.

CM: You’ve written the play together. How did that creative process work..? Did you just sit in a room brainstorming, or did you each work separately and then come together…?
WI&TN: We started brainstorming ideas and did at least a year’s worth of research before beginning the writing process of the play. Depending where we were in the writing process informed how we worked together on the script. Sometimes we would write separately, sometimes we would write together. We found a great way of writing using Google drive. This was a beneficial way of sharing ideas whilst also allowing us to be free as writers.

CM: Did you do much research to inform the play?
WI&TN: We attended meetings and conferences, hearing several testimonials from ex-detainees and spoke to several people and organisations who had worked with people who had had experience with detention. We always looked out for relevant articles and what was being said in the media. We would also do our own individual research – Tamsin began volunteering for a great organisation called Detention Forum and Winnie researched into Detained Voices, a forum run by women who have experienced detention.

CM: You also appear in the show – what’s it like performing your own words…? How does the fact that you’re the creators of the script affect your relationship with your director?
WI&TN: We have always wanted this to be a collaborative process. Our wonderful director, Abigail Sewell, is very much involved with the development of the text as it goes into production. Although we were aware of the challenge to change from writer to actor we’ve found that we’ve been able to adapt to both roles quite fluidly. Of course there are still areas you want to work on as a writer but time is the limit and it’s about remembering that it’s a process and we’re not looking for a polished result.

CM: What hopes do you have for the play in the future, after this run at CPT?
WI&TN: We hope to tour ‘Heard’ around the UK, in regional theatres, and hopefully come back to do another run of the show in London. It would be wonderful to reach a variety of audiences and hope the play speaks to many people.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future in general?
WI&TN: We aim as a company to continue to create work which instigates change in society, continues to challenge our audiences and raises awareness around political issues.

CM: What’s coming up next for you both, after this?
WI&TN: More work we hope! Winnie is going to be doing more writing and has a few projects coming up. Tamsin is in a Christmas commercial – watch out!


‘Heard’ is on at Camden People’s Theatre as part of the No Direction Home festival. See the venue website here for more information and to book.