North Wall’s decision to stage Kay Adshead’s coruscating play on asylum The Bogus Woman was a brave and timely one. Written over twenty years ago, it is even more relevant today. The risks taken by refugees fleeing persecution cannot be ignored, yet Adshead suggests their suffering continues in the UK, while their future remains desperately uncertain. Adshead researched asylum seekers’ stories at Campsfield detention centre, six miles from Oxford. In The Bogus Woman, she puts an attractive, engaging face to an harrowing composite story. Director Zoe Waterman’s fast pacing and clear, uncluttered style carries the audience through 120 unbroken, intense minutes of a single woman’s journey from Africa – and back.
Krissi Bohn’s one woman performance is astonishing. Not only does she play the central character but also all the people she meets on her way: some kind, some less so but all unable to lift her to that modest place of safety which her dreadful ordeal so richly deserves. ‘This play should be a period piece,’ Bohn said afterwards in a panel discussion with the audience. In a tour de force of voices, Bohn’s interrogation by an Immigration Panel, whose purpose is to establish whether her claim to asylum is bogus or not, is gut-wrenchingly awful. She is made to relive again and again the horror of her ordeal in which she lost five members of her family. Spurious questions are asked by the panel with perfect equanimity about the soldiers’ methods of killing and why she was spared, while everyone around her was butchered.
Small acts of kindness, such as offering a local address while a refugee’s appeal is being processed can allow individuals to leave detention, but with restricted movement and regular reporting in. Representatives from agencies such as Asylum Welcome, the Campaign to Close Campsfield and Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre brought insight and experience to the audience’s many questions. Despite the overwhelming scale of suffering and need, there are many practical measures which Oxford residents can take. Some audience members had already done so by offering bail, rooms in their houses, or by visiting refugees in detention.
According to Kate Smart, Director of Asylum Welcome ‘Just standing alongside, to help a refugee negotiate the system, is valuable.' She cited the impending Immigration and Asylum Bill as merely ‘making things more uncomfortable’ for asylum seekers. Yet having endured appalling persecution at home, it will not have the desired effect of voluntary return. MPs and councillors should be lobbied in protest. Tim Scott Smith from the Refugee Studies Centre observed that ‘awful as her ordeal was’, the Bogus Woman at least was granted access to judicial process. Most refugees are sent back at the border, their application for entry dismissed in under five minutes.