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Bradford College ESOL Students to Perform at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

A Bradford College ESOL student speaks to the audience during a performance of ‘Because’ in Refugee Week 2023 while two other ESOL students watch from behind.

A group of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students from Bradford College will perform at the world-renowned Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre as part of Refugee Week (19 – 25 June). 

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees will host the fundraising event ‘Moving Stories’ on Sunday 25 June to mark the finale of Refugee Week – the world’s largest arts and culture festival celebrating the contributions, creativity, and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary.

The Bradford College ESOL students speak English as a second language and many are refugees or asylum seekers – some arriving in the country as recently as January this year. The students have been invited to perform work alongside other sketches, short plays, and songs examining the experiences of refugees.

The group will travel to London to present ‘Because,’ a script by internationally acclaimed British playwright, David Edgar.  The play was released without copyright restrictions to mark Refugee Week and follows the poignant story of an ESOL teacher learning about the past of one of her students. 

The celebrity cast performing on the same evening includes Sir Simon Russell Beale CBE, David Morrissey, Omar Baroud, Mackenzie Crook, Rakie Ayola, Caroline Sheen, Ray Fearon and more. All artists give their time for free to support the UN refugee agency with profits donated towards refugees affected by the war in Ukraine.

Bradford College has a successful history of working with marginalised groups and was named the first College of Sanctuary in West Yorkshire by City of Sanctuary UK. The region receives around 13% of the UK’s Asylum Seekers with Bradford one of four locations to receive the highest proportion.

Bradford College ESOL Lecturer Esther Wilkey explained:

“Bradford College has a long-standing connection with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Several years ago, we created ‘Shakespeare Club’ as a powerful new method of teaching English to ESOL students. The programme is for asylum seekers and immigrants, many of whom have experienced trauma, live alone, or are carers and translators for family. 

“The Club utilises RSC warm-up techniques used by actors to improve eye contact, teamwork, and confidence. Students mix with native English speakers and build cross-cultural unity with classmates from around the globe. The programme collaborates with the RSC and the local city theatre collective, and scenes from Shakespeare plays are rehearsed for performances to develop English speaking, listening, and literacy skills. 

“The Shakespeare Club also explores themes of identity, power, relationships, immigration, safety, etc. and has now developed into our whole department tutorial programme and benefitted well over 500 students. Many have progressed from ESOL to GCSE and A Level courses and are now studying at universities all over the country. We run workshops with RSC directors and actors, attend workshops with touring companies who perform at the Alhambra Theatre, attend the shows, and visit Stratford-upon-Avon with students who have never left the city since arriving in the UK.”

The Globe Theatre show comes shortly after students took part in several other events to mark Refugee Week. Entry 1 to Level 1 ESOL students performed an edited version of Twelfth Night at the local Marie Curie Hospice for outpatients and their families on 15 June. 

Following this, students hosted a performance for the community at the Bradford College Bronte Lecture Theatre (20 June). Entry 1 and 2 students learnt simplified scripts that explain the outline of their scene, while Entry 3 and Level 1 students performed their scenes in Shakespearean English.

At the same event, students performed ‘Because’ and were honoured to welcome the award-winning playwright himself, David Edgar, who made a special trip to West Yorkshire to attend the performance.  David has had more than sixty published plays performed around the world, making him one of the most prolific dramatists post-1960s in Great Britain.

Playwright David Edgar said:

“I was so pleased to hear [Bradford College ESOL department] were working on my script for the Moving Stories project. I lived in Bradford from 1969 to 1974 – a really thrilling time to be in the city, theatrically and in so many other ways – so I’m particularly keen that you’re doing it. […] Yesterday was so moving. It will really stay with me. I’m so pleased I was able to come.”

Esther Wilkey added:

We were beyond thrilled at the thought of David Edgar coming to the performance. It has been such a privilege to work on the script and it’s so lovely that he has a connection with Bradford. I have been working here for the past 10 years, and I never could have imagined all the exciting opportunities that my students and I would experience in this wonderfully diverse and welcoming city. 

“Many of the students performing have first-hand knowledge of the ‘Because’ storyline and, at times, the process of working on the script has been humbling and inspiring as students have shared their experiences as refugees and asylum seekers with each other.”  

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