Story of the Calais Jungle reaches New York after refugee actors overcome Trump travel ban

The Jungle, a critically acclaimed play about life in the notorious Calais refugee camp, is making its transfer from London to New York after cultural, religious and political leaders persuaded immigration authorities to waive Donald Trump’s travel ban.

Three actors – two Iranians and a Syrian – needed to be granted special permission to enter.

“The odds were against us,” Stephen Daldry, one of its two directors, told The New York Times. “We knew it was going to be a challenge.”

Supporters reportedly included Benedict Cumberbatch, Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, and a New York Senator.

Sting and his wife Trudie Styler wrote to American immigration officials at the embassy in London to press the case.

“It is without doubt a seminal piece of theatre with significant artistic merit and national importance, representing the cutting edge of theatre being made in the world today,” they wrote, according to a text obtained by The New York Times.

“No play this century has struck a chord with audiences as much as The Jungle has during its run in London.”

French authorities cleared the camp in October 2016Credit:
David Rose

Mr Trump’s ban survived multiple legal challenges and was upheld by the Supreme Court in June. It indefinitely suspended the granting of visas to applicants from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

However, it does allow waivers in certain instances, including cases where entry is in the US national interest.

The result was visas for two of the play’s Iranian stars Moein Ghobsheh and Yasin Moradi – whose talents were first discovered in the camp.

Ammar Haj Ahmad, a Syrian, took a different path. Producers decided that applying for a British citizenship offered an easier route to entry.

“I still can’t believe I’m in America,” said Mr Ahmad, 36, who trained as an actor in Syria before fleeing the conflict. “It’s bizarre that we live at a time when you need all this work to get one person to another country, and amazing that it happened.”

The play is due to run for eight weeks at St Anne's Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York

The actors are now rehearsing in Brooklyn ahead of their scheduled opening on Sunday. The first 23 performances have already sold out.

The play is set in an Afghan cafe at the heart of the sprawling camp, and details the hopes and dreams of families fleeing conflict, their battle to reach the UK and the ever present dangers.

It premiered at the Young Vic last year before transferring to the Playhouse.

As Dominic Cavendish, the Telegraph’s theatre critic, put it in his five-star review: “Whatever your attitude to the issue of migration you’ll emerge from this shattering experience duly challenged. The human warmth of those we encounter is inspiring – the West End just got a heart transplant.”

Or as Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury put it in his letter requesting O-2 visas for the three actors: “It is not a propagandist play in any narrow sense but a brilliantly innovative and imaginative evocation of the complexities of the refugee crisis as represented in the camp at Calais.”

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