Babies born in Chester today are unlikely to be true Cestrians unless mum lives within the City Walls and opts for a home birth, or doesn’t quite make it to the Countess and delivers her precious cargo in the back of the car heading up Northgate Street.
People live in and around our city from all over the place - Wales, Liverpool, Manchester, France, Macedonia, India, China and New Zealand.
I even know someone from Scotland who chose to take up residence here.
Work might have brought them here, family commitments or they fancied the ‘border town’ element of our small conurbation.
And very soon, according to artistic director of Theatre in the Quarter Matt Baker, a family from Syria will be settling here.
Refugees. Fleeing persecution in their own country. Looking for a home. Looking for help.
How will we receive them? Will the ancient byelaw about the freedom to shoot the marauding Welsh with a crossbow after dusk have to be updated? Will we set an extra place at the table for them? Will they join your choir, be at school with your children, perhaps work with you? Will they take your job? Marry your daughter? Claim benefits?
Who knows, but if you want to be provoked to think more about the implications of a refugee moving in next door, book a ticket for The Lost Boy at St Mary’s Creative Space.
Two years in the making, this Theatre in the Quarter production has involved a team of artists working with children, refugees, charities, community singers and actors to look at what might happen when people seek sanctuary in YOUR town.
And without demeaning the storyline in any way, the tale is told simply. Set in a seaside town, a normal family are preparing for Christmas. Dad was a fisherman but now can only get a job in a fish and chip shop, mum is a teaching assistant who runs a community choir in rehearsal for a festive concert and 15-year-old Maddie is having a strop. The local news is that five men have been spotted landing in the town from a boat but little is known about them.
Jill McAusland is very engaging as the young Maddie who ends up striking up a friendship with one of the men - in actual fact a 15-year-old boy called Karem (played touchingly by Andrei Costin).
Simple acts beg all sorts of questions - she offers him a flying saucer sweet, which he has never tasted before. She asks if he has tasted pizza in Syria - ‘of course’ he says after joking that he only eats bugs, dirt and insects in his home town.
Who would know these little facts about life in Syria - from footage we see on the news - pizza parlours and sweet shops are long gone.
But back to Our Town - the town that dad Frank (Jonathan Markwood) is keen to defend from invaders and make great again. We know he voted Leave in last year’s Brexit vote, we know that he thinks his wife Claire (Victoria Brazier) also voted Leave and the minute we hear the words ‘fishing quotas’ we know why. We have sympathy with them both - they are trying to make ends meet - he has his Rotary Club, she has her choir, but things are not easy.
Ironically, less than a month before the £37m Storyhouse opens in Chester, we find out that the council in Our Town has closed the theatre, the library, the community centre and the youth club, but Frank is still hoping his Christmas lights are the best on the seafront.
The play, written by Stephanie Dale and directed by Kate McGregor, has the effect of lulling you in to a comfort zone of Christmas carols, choir practice and cheesy pasta at the same time as questioning your own attitudes to strangers, your suspicions, your values.
There are times when it overstretches itself by touching on Big Issues but not taking them far enough. The ‘magical’ elements, whereby Karem is able to call up the voices of refugees by a simple song from his homeland, needed further development and his knowledge of the carol Silent Night was just a little bit too cosy. But Maddie’s insistence on correcting his English at every turn, was delightful.
The community cast complement the professional actors perfectly and if you end up wondering where you have seen that policeman before, he was hanging on a cross next to Jesus on Good Friday outside Chester Cathedral in the City Passion Play.
I left the theatre wishing I had been able to sit in on Gav Cross’s workshop with local schoolchildren to hear what they thought about the refugee ‘crisis’ and I bet they came up with the idea to offer a flying saucer. I wish I had heard more from the two refugees, Nadine from Burundi and Abrar, from Pakistan, who were part of the workshop process and were in the audience last night.
I certainly hope that, if the Syrian refugee family arrive in Chester before the end of the run on May 7, someone buys them a ticket.
The Lost Boy is at St Mary’s Creative Space until May 7. Tickets are available at www.ticketsource.co.uk/creativemarys or by calling 07854 550549.