“It’s not about refugees, it’s about humans,” said Syrian actor Ammar Haj Ahmad in a recent interview about the theatrical phenomenon, THE JUNGLE in which he stars and leads a multinational, multiethnic cast, vividly recreating the life in the sprawling makeshift camp called ‘the jungle’ in Calais on France’s northern coast, where thousands gathered from all corners of the world to escape war and terror, hoping to cross the English Channel and build a new life.
Ammar plays Safi, the main spokesperson for the Jungle’s inhabitants, who also functions in the play as the guide and chronicler. In 2011, Ammar was a cast member in a production of the Arabian classic ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, which completed its global tour in Edinburgh. His visa ran out, but the crisis back in this homeland had escalated to the point where he felt he could not return. He contacted the British Home Office to apply for asylum and the 36 year-old has not returned to Syria since.
The Broadway-bound National Theatre and Young Vic co-production with the playwrighters Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s Good Chance Theatre premiered at the Young Vic last November. Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, it transferred across the river to the Embankment’s Playhouse Theatre earlier this year where it resides until 3 November before crossing a bigger stretch of water to New York.
The sell-out production received a powerful reaction. Audiences and critics were blown away. The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish has called it “the most important play in the West End.” The immersive nature of the play, which transports everyone into the jungle itself is “an experience we do together- actors and audience,” said Ammar. “I am truly grateful to be part of theatre that makes a difference.”
I met Ammar at the stage door after a Saturday matinee a few weeks ago where he signed my sketch.