Actors in hit U.K. play hurdle Trump travel ban
NEW YORK—The Jungle, a new British play about a French refugee camp, was an obvious candidate to transfer to New York: critically lauded, commercially successful, timely and talked about.
But it had one big problem: three of the 17 people in the London cast were citizens of predominantly Muslim countries whose residents have been barred by U.S. President Donald Trump from travelling to the United States.
The show’s creative team and producers were reluctant to move the play without all the cast members, saying their life experiences — several had lived in the Calais refugee camp being depicted — gave the show its authenticity. But trying to get two Iranians and a Syrian into Trump-era America to perform a drama that is inherently sympathetic to refugees was, to put it mildly, daunting.
“The odds were against us,” said Stephen Daldry, who is directing the play alongside Justin Martin. “We knew it was going to be a challenge.”
Over several months, a coalition of celebrities (including Sting and Benedict Cumberbatch), religious leaders (the former Archbishop of Canterbury) and politicians (the mayors of New York and London) joined forces in an effort to persuade the administration to grant the actors a waiver from the ban.
Of course, there was contingency planning: an IranianAmerican actor, Arian Moayed, was quietly flown to London and intensively rehearsed for a key part (he even went on one night in the ensemble) so he could replace one of the refugees in New York if need be.
And then there was a zanyseeming gamble: after one of the Iranians was initially rejected by the State Department, the producers decided that, rather than try to persuade the United States to admit the Syrian actor, they would endeavour to win him British citizenship, thinking that would be an easier path to New York.
Moein Ghobsheh, left, Yasin Moradi, both Iranian refugees, and Ammar Haj Ahmad, a Syrian refugee, will be allowed entry into the U.S. to perform The Jungle.