Theatre preview: My Friend Selma
Terra Incognita show refugee life through the eyes of a child
When she was eight years old, what Victoria Beesley wanted more than anything, was a best friend. She had images in her head of what that friend would be like and how they would play together – but scarcely did she imagine her dream would come true through the most desperate of circumstances.
Because while Beesley was busy daydreaming in Leeds, another eight year old was running scared in war-torn Bosnia. Selma Redzepagic’s older sister urgently needed medical attention, but when the hospital she was being treated in came under attack, her family fled their homeland and headed for Slovenia. There, they found an impossibly long waiting list for treatment, and boarded a coach bound for safety in another country – exactly where, they had no idea.
The coach in question was owned by Beesley’s father, who had taken over a disused boarding school in Leeds to provide temporary accommodation for Bosnian refugees. Upon arrival, the two eight years olds quickly found each other.
‘I met Selma a couple of days after she arrived in the UK’ recalls Beesley, ‘and instantly thought she was absolutely amazing. We couldn’t speak the same language, but my mum remembers looking out of the window and seeing me and Selma laughing so much we fell over. So we shared the same sense of humour, even though we couldn’t speak the same words.’
That was in 1992. Over twenty years later, Beesley’s theatre company Terra Incognita is bringing her young companion’s story to the stage in a one-woman show. As a child, Beesley had only a vague understanding of what the Redzepagic family had endured – as an adult, in order to create My Friend Selma, she needed to find out more.
‘I knew a little bit about what had happened to Selma, and the journey her family had been on,’ explains Beesley. ‘But it was only when I thought about making this show, that I sat down with her and did a couple of interviews. We went over the whole story in detail and I found out a lot that I didn’t know before – it was quite moving to hear it in her own words.’
And indeed it is Selma’s words that audiences will hear during the show. Told through her young eyes, the story unfolds as if it were a present-day situation, backed by a website ‘museum’ filled with information about the Bosnian conflict and its refugees.
‘The show is based on Selma’s memories,’ explains Beesley, who wrote and performs it. ‘So we take the audience on the journey that Selma and her family went on, we see Selma trying to work out what’s going on – and then, when she gets to the UK, trying to get used to life in this new country. Because by doing it through Selma’s eyes, it makes it accessible for a young audience.’
Touring Scotland Fri 9 Oct–Sun 25 Oct.