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Aviatrix (Excerpt)

Somewhere in the airspace above the English Channel, Palestinian actor Hadi Al-Shawish is on a flight to his next gig in London when Air Traffic Control announces a new legislation banning citizens of Muslim majority countries from entering the UK. Upon landing, he is met by Immigration Officer Jessminder “Jess” Sidhu and detained in a cell. In order to keep himself occupied, Hadi rehearses his lines for the show. The following scenes take place halfway through the play.

An oblique stroke / indicates the point of interruption in overlapping dialogue 


SCENE 4

1:00 pm. Jess enters and looks exhausted. Chaos ensues in the airport around her. No one knows what to do. Jess and Hadi sit across from each other at a table. Jess produces a camera and puts it on her desk. Hadi notices it. He doesn’t know whether to look into it or to look at Jess. 


JESS
How are you Mr Al-Shawish?


HADI
I’m fine thank you.


JESS
Thanks for waiting.


HADI
No problem. 


JESS
I need to ask you some questions, which you must truthfully answer. Are you fit and well to be interviewed? 


HADI
Yes, I will try. 


JESS
I'm asking because I don't want to start and then you tell me five to ten minutes in that you need a break.


HADI
I'm fine. Continue...


Jess begins her questioning which is quick fire and relentless. She occasionally writes notes.


JESS
You work as an actor?


HADI
Correct. 


JESS
And you’re here to do a film in Manchester.


HADI
No. A play in London.


JESS
Ok. Theatre. Shakespeare?


HADI
No. Did you know Shakespeare was Palestinian?


JESS
I didn’t. So, you are here on a temporary work visa to act in a play in London. 


HADI
Yes, called Aviatrix. 


JESS
What’s it about?


HADI
About the life of a famous pilot called Amy Johnson who flew solo from England to Australia in 1930.


JESS
I’ve heard of her. And what is your role?


HADI
I play Muhammad Al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi engineer who helps Amy when her plane crashes in Iraq.


JESS
And this is your main source of income, acting?


HADI
Yes.


JESS
What kind of roles do you play?


HADI
(trying to crack a joke)
Mostly terrorists to be honest. 


JESS
Where is your place of work?


HADI
Anywhere that will invite me.

JESS
Do you have a permanent job in your country?


HADI
No. 


JESS
Do you have any prospects of employment when you return home?


HADI
Let’s see. Hope yes.  


JESS
And home is...


HADI
Jerusalem, Palestine.


JESS
And you’re happy there? 


HADI
I don’t think happy is the right word. 


JESS
You’re going to leave?


HADI
Maybe. 


JESS
Long term, what are your plans? Are you planning on moving here, or continuing to work here?


HADI
No, I will go home. 


JESS
So no plans to stay in the UK?


HADI
I really have no interest in this country. 


JESS
It’s your first time here?


HADI
Yes. I never wanted to come here. But I go where the work takes me. 


JESS
So, you have a problem with the UK.


HADI
The UK doesn’t have a good reputation in my country.


JESS
Why’s that?


HADI
It’s a long story. 


JESS
Tell me.


HADI
Let’s just say, your people led my people to the river and drowned them. 


JESS
Very poetic. So you’re here…why?


HADI
Like I said, I go where the work takes me.


JESS
And your job is?


HADI
Acting. I am an actor.


JESS
So you’re unhappy in your country, you are thinking of leaving, there’s no job for you to return to, you don’t have a bank account and you have only three hundred pounds to support you during your stay in the UK. But you come to a country which you hate, with no belongings.


HADI
This is a problem? And for the record, I never said I ‘hate’ the UK.


JESS
I have to ascertain whether I can permit your entry into the UK and in order to do that I need to be sure that you have no interest in living, working or claiming any benefits from the UK government and no motivation or reason to cause harm to any UK citizens.


HADI
I want nothing from the UK and I want nothing bad for it. I just came to act. Look, really I am a simple person but this means people always misunderstand me.


JESS
Well we need to find a way to understand each other so we can make a decision. 


HADI
Who is we?


JESS
I am the one who asks the questions Mr. Al-Shawish.


HADI
OK, sorry. 


JESS
Where will you be staying in London?


HADI
In an apartment.


JESS
Where exactly?


HADI
I’m not sure. Somewhere near the centre. 


JESS
You can’t remember the address?


HADI
No but it is written down somewhere. It has the name of an animal in it…Elephant and something.


JESS
Elephant and Castle.


HADI
Right. Strange name no?


JESS
I ask the questions. Who are the other actors you will be working with?


HADI
I don’t remember their names. 


JESS
How old are they?


HADI
I really have no idea.


JESS
And their birthdays are?


HADI
How would I know that?


JESS
So you don’t know anything about your colleagues?


HADI
I'm just feeling under pressure.


JESS
I asked you earlier if you felt fine to be interviewed and you said yes. I'm a bit confused because your English is fine, you understand me just fine, you told me you have nothing to hide, so why are you stressed? 


HADI
All I have to say is that I have done nothing wrong. I have come here to do a play. Only.


JESS
I'll be the judge of whether you've done something wrong or not. 


HADI
I'm not breaking any laws. 


JESS
Not yet.


HADI
I have a valid visa.


JESS
What do you think immigration law is?


HADI
This law, this travel ban, I didn’t even know it existed. I was in the SKY! If my plane hadn’t been delayed I would have landed before it was even passed!


JESS
Why don’t you spend much time in your own country?


HADI
I prefer it that way. I guess I have a love of travel.


JESS
Tell me about your travel history. Have you travelled to Iraq, Syria, Iran or Turkey?


HADI
Yes. Syria and Turkey.


JESS
Where and when?


HADI
To Damascus in 2009 and 2010 and Istanbul, 2010, 11 and 12.


JESS
And when have you travelled to Iraq and Iran?


HADI
I have not. 


JESS
Never?


HADI
No, never. It’s not easy for me to travel there. 


JESS
But you travelled to Syria. 


HADI
Yes, before the war started. 


JESS
You like Turkey a lot.


HADI
It’s not that I like it but I had a job there, in a TV series, so I went many times. 


JESS
And you travelled in between Syria and Turkey.


HADI
To Syria and Turkey yes, in between no. 


JESS
You didn’t cross the border there?


HADI
No, why would I?


JESS
Why do you travel so much? It looks like you can’t stay still. 


HADI
Since 2002 I did not stop. I got a job in Norway, in a big production, and then a scholarship to study three years in Paris, and after…New York, Barcelona, Berlin, Tunis, Amman, Damascus, Istanbul, I forget all the places.


JESS
Did you comply with the immigration laws of the various countries you have visited?


HADI
Absolutely.


JESS
Did you ever outstay the period allocated in your visa?


HADI
Never.


JESS
Since 2002 you are travelling, non-stop. 


HADI
Yes. Maybe you would like to write some of this down because I think you are repeating yourself. 


Pause


Sorry.


JESS
Can you explain to me why the visa stamps of some of the places you just listed aren’t inside this passport? Where is Turkey for example?


HADI
Look, I have another passport. 


JESS
From where?


HADI
From the State of Israel. And it’s not a passport. It’s a laissez passé.


JESS
What does that mean?


HADI
It’s like a travel document. 


JESS
Were you born in Israel? Are you a citizen of Israel?


HADI
I was born in what is called ‘Israel’ and I am a sort of temporary citizen there. 


JESS
Perhaps you can expand on that a bit more?


HADI
Again, it’s a long story, but if you have the time/


JESS
/Back to the issue at hand: why didn’t you travel using this ‘travel document’? It might have saved you a lot of trouble.


HADI
Why, because it would make me look un-Arab?


JESS
No, Mr. Al-Shawish, because the stamps on that document would provide us with the full picture of the regular trips you claim you make. 


HADI
But, my point is, is Israel on the list of countries?


JESS
No. 


HADI
That’s what I wanted to know. But back to the issue at hand, as you say: I was working in Jordan at the time I needed to make my UK visa application. To enter Jordan I have to have my Jordanian passport, to apply for a UK visa I have to hand over my passport. You can see the logic, right?


JESS
How do you know your sponsor, the person who invited you to the UK?


HADI
That’s it? No more questions about the travel documents?


JESS
For now.


HADI
My sponsor is the director of the play. I met her in the theatre in Istanbul. She saw a play I was acting in.


JESS
I thought you were in Istanbul to act in a TV series. 


HADI
I was. But I did a play too. A short one.


JESS
Shooting a TV series is hard work. Long days, long nights. How did you have time to do a play as well?


HADI
I found time.


JESS
How many times have you met this director?


HADI
Just one time, but she liked what I did so we stayed in touch and then she invited me to do this play.


JESS
So, she doesn’t know you well at all. It’s been years since you last saw each other.


HADI
It’s a professional relationship. She knows all she needs to know to work with me.


JESS
How often do you communicate?


HADI
Not very often. 


JESS
You use WhatsApp, texts?


HADI
No, Email. I don’t have a phone.


JESS
Ok Hadi, that will be all for now. 


HADI
We’re finished?


JESS
(slightly taken aback)
Yes. Thank you. Do you need anything? Some water perhaps?


HADI
Yes. Thank you so much. 


Jess takes Hadi back to the waiting room and exits to get a coffee.


Blackout.


SCENE 5 

Midday. Hadi has been alone in his cell for 4 hours now. He paces up and down, trying to pass the time. He turns his new ID bracelet around his wrist. The air conditioning is turned up unnecessarily high and it’s making him cold. He decides he needs to concentrate on rehearsing the script to pass the time. 


HADI
.تمام. بلّش


Lights dim.
Hadi starts to make the sound of a sandstorm.
He starts to run his lines.


HADI (as Muhammad)
.مرحبا؟ عفواً
Bonjour? Pardonnez-moi!
Hello? Excuse me!
.لدي رمل في عينيّ، لا أرى شيئاً. أرجوك يا سيدي، أخرج من الطائرة وتعال إلى شاحنتي


HADI
(A stage direction)
.مش شآين إشي. في عاصفة رملية. بَفرك عيوني لاقدر أشوف


HADI (as Muhammad)
Shelter with me until the sandstorm passes. 


HADI
(A stage direction)
.وهي عم تمشي صوبي. عرفت انها مرأة


HADI (As Muhammad)
My Lord. She just fell from the sky.


HADI
.بَتذكر. من الأول


He makes the sandstorm sound again. This time more committed and energetic than the first time. Here, the sound effects take over getting louder and louder as the scene progresses.  


HADI (as Muhammad)
Hello? Excuse me! I am blinded by the sand in my eyes. Please, Sir, leave the plane and come towards my truck. My Lord. She just fell from the sky.
That’s it, get in. Shut the door please.
Madam, are you injured? Are you hurt?


A pause. As if Hadi is waiting to find Amy’s voice in his imagination. Then we hear Amy’s voice for the first time, but we do not see her. She is clearly shaken and trying to string sentences together.


AMY
No.


HADI (as Muhammad)
.حمد لله
Can you see me?


AMY
Yes. I can see you. 


HADI
(as a directing note to Amy)
.لا. هي فصيحة. كوني أنيقة، بليز


AMY
(more well-spoken and posh)
Yes. I can see you. 


HADI
(to Amy)
.أيوه


HADI (as Muhammad)
Good. 


Pause.


AMY
Where am I?


HADI (as Muhammad)
You are one mile from Lake Habbaniya in Anbar Province, Iraq. 


AMY
I thought that was the end of me.


HADI (as Muhammad)
But you are alive. It was not your appointed time to die.


Pause.


AMY
And may I know the name of my rescuer?


HADI (as Muhammad)
I am Muhammad Al-Baghdadi. 


Jess appears onstage as Amy Johnson. She is a figment of Hadi’s imagination, but he acts with her as if she is the real Amy. He has got so engrossed in the scene that he is able to run it as if he is live on stage with another actor.


JESS (as Amy)
You’re from Baghdad?


HADI (as Muhammad)
Yes.


JESS (as Amy)
I’m Amy Johnson. I’m from England.


HADI (as Muhammad)
I can tell.


Pause.


So, Amy Johnson. What are you doing in Iraq?


JESS (as Amy)
I’m on my way to Australia.


HADI (as Muhammad)
Australia. 


JESS (as Amy)
I’m trying to break a world record. Fastest solo flight from England.


HADI (as Muhammad)
You travel alone.


JESS (as Amy)
I always travel alone.


HADI (as Muhammad)
Where have you just come from?


JESS (as Amy)
From Aleppo.


HADI (as Muhammad)
From Syria? What were you doing in Syria?


JESS (as Amy)
I made an emergency stop there. At Mouslimié. The French have a military base there.


HADI (as Muhammad)
From Britain. Friend of the French. 


JESS (as Amy)
And before I got lost I was heading towards the British base at RAF Hinaidi. I tried to follow the Euphrates but the muddy banks kept merging into the landscape making it impossible to track. The air was hazy and my visibility poor. Then the sand kicked up. It was impossible to tell which way it was blowing.


HADI (as Muhammad)
British spy. Friend of the French.


JESS (as Amy)
I am not a spy. 


HADI (as Muhammad)
But you are flying from one military base to another.


JESS (as Amy)
Yes. To refuel. 


HADI (as Muhammad)
And before Syria?


JESS (as Amy)
Constantinople. I lost a day there because I couldn’t get the officials to sign my documents. They held me in the airport so I changed my route and flew directly to Aleppo to make up time. Luckily there was a military base there. 


Muhammad lights a cigarette and takes his time to smoke it.


JESS (as Amy)
(coughing)
Must you?


HADI (as Muhammad)
If it bothers you, you can always get out.


Pause.


So, you were telling me about how you got lost. 


JESS (as Amy)
Yes. On my map there is a section that just says ‘unchartered desert’. The sand cleared a bit and I spotted a caravan of horses and camels but as soon as I got close they scattered in panic. Jason’s nose dipped and lurched forward, three times. I felt so disorientated I could have been flying upside down. (Coughing) Please. Water.


Muhammad gives her water. She drinks it all at once. He puts his cigarette out.


HADI (as Muhammad)
You are lucky you did not die of thirst. It is the most fearful way to leave this earth. Who is Jason?


JESS (as Amy)
My plane. I gave him a name. Jason.


Pause.


Your English is really very good.


HADI (as Muhammad)
Thank you. It wasn’t my choice to learn English but…my job required it. You speak any other languages?


JESS (as Amy)
Yes. French. 


HADI (as Muhammad)
Bien sur. Et moi aussi.
.أتتكلمين العربية؟ طبعاً لا  


Pause


JESS (as Amy)
When will this blasted sandstorm pass? It is as black as night.


HADI
(giving Amy a direction)
أنت  مزعوجة أكثر بكثير من هيك . تكرهي الانتظار   


JESS (as Amy)

(more annoyed)
When will this blasted sandstorm pass? It is as black as night.


HADI (as Muhammad)
I cannot say. We are at the mercy of nature. 


JESS (as Amy)
I hate waiting. 


HADI (as Muhammad)
Perhaps you can try to enjoy it. The pleasure of waiting, knowing you have not been abandoned.  


They sit together in silence. Amy sighs. 


You feel the sun? This means the storm is almost passed.


JESS (as Amy)
What next?


HADI (as Muhammad)
I will take you to the Imperial Airways Aerodrome. They can make arrangements for the replacement for your plane. 


JESS (as Amy)
Replacement? No. I will patch him up and be on my way. 


HADI (as Muhammad)
I don’t think that will be possible Miss Johnson. Look. The strut underneath your plane is badly damaged. The nearest aerodrome at Lake Habbaniya is for sea planes. They will not have the parts you need.


JESS (as Amy)
(becoming frantic)
You have to lend me a plane! Oh Christ alive/


HADI (as Muhammad)
I do not have a plane to lend you/


JESS (as Amy)
If you can’t fix my plane I need a new one. Now!


HADI (as Muhammad)
The nearest manufacturer is in Karachi. One thousand five hundred miles from here. Perhaps within three or four days Imperial Airways could help you to arrange something. 


JESS (as Amy)
I don’t have three or four days. I hardly have three or four minutes to spare.


HADI (as Muhammad)
Why the rush?


JESS (as Amy)
Did you not hear me? I told you I am trying to break a world record.


Pause.


How far is RAF Hinaidi? They are expecting me. I want to go there. 


HADI (as Muhammad)
I cannot take you there.


JESS (as Amy)
Why not?


HADI (as Muhammad)
I just came from there. I can’t go back.


JESS (as Amy)
Please. Look, what do you want? Money? Jewel/


HADI (as Muhammad)
(insulted)
I don’t want your money. 


Pause. The sandstorm passes.


JESS (as Amy)
God. This silence is unbearable.


HADI (as Muhammad)
The silence after a sandstorm is like the silence after someone has died. You have the same sense of something being fulfilled.


Amy goes to get out of the truck. She has had enough.


HADI (as Muhammad)
Where are you going?


JESS (as Amy)
To fix my plane.


HADI (as Muhammad)
Impossible.


Pause.


Madam. Get in. I will drive you to the RAF base. 


Blackout.

Contributor
Olivia Furber

Olivia Furber is a theatre director and writer experienced in mixed media and multi-lingual performances. She received a collaborative MA in International Performance Research from the Universities of Helsinki, Warwick & Amsterdam and went on to take up a movement director traineeship at Opera North in 2015. She has directed & assistant directed work for York Theatre Royal, Ensemble52 & Theatre Hullabaloo. She is co-artistic director of ivo theatre for whom credits include: In the Vice Like Grip of It (co-produced by The Lowry, ARC & Theatre in the Mill), Unofficial Translation (TATE & Fuse Gallery) & The Land’s Heart Is Greater Than Its Map (Meta Theater & The Albany).

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Olivia Furber is a theatre director and writer experienced in mixed media and multi-lingual performances. She received a collaborative MA in International Performance Research from the Universities of Helsinki, Warwick & Amsterdam and went on to take up a movement director traineeship at Opera North in 2015. She has directed & assistant directed work for York Theatre Royal, Ensemble52 & Theatre Hullabaloo. She is co-artistic director of ivo theatre for whom credits include: <em>In the Vice Like Grip of It</em> (co-produced by The Lowry, ARC & Theatre in the Mill), <em>Unofficial Translation </em>(TATE & Fuse Gallery) & <em>The Land’s Heart Is Greater Than Its Map</em> (Meta Theater & The Albany).

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