The actresses Jessican Fanhan and Deniz Polatoglu on Kamyon

Kamyon reminds us that that we are all human beings. And millions of them are fleeing something. In Kamyon, one of them is given a voice, a life, almost like you and me.

Jessica Fanhan, Deniz Polatoglu and other actresses portray the little girl travelling through Europe while shut up in a lorry. The performance also traverses the continent. Deniz Polatoglu helped created the play. Jessica Fanhan performs the French version. Fanhan vividly remembers her first performance in France in September 2015. She says: ‘It was two weeks after the photo of Aylan appeared, the little boy who had been washed ashore dead. Intense. Reality always exceeds fiction. Since that time I have had the feeling that refugees have found their way into our collective consciousness. That we can no longer look away.’

She realises that it is ‘only’ theatre, and sometimes that makes her hesitate. But still: the audience literally sits in a lorry, close to each other and to the actresses. Fanhan says: ‘If Kamyon has any effect on the audience, it is that it moves them. Sometimes to tears.’ Polatoglu performed the piece in Istanbul: ‘I ended up with a lorry full of crying people who wanted to cuddle me after the performance.’

There are often discussions afterwards, and what strikes Fanhan is that the performance particularly stimulates youngsters to talk. She says: ‘However heartbreaking the story, the youngsters understand it. Even very small children empathise.’
Empathy. That’s what it’s all about. Fanhan says: ‘The girl whose story I tell is like us. We often see refugees in the media, with their bags and dirty clothes, and think we have little in common with them. We forget that they also lived in houses, that they like football, wore nice clothes. Just like you and me.’

There has been migration in Fanhan’s life too, though not as a refugee. She was born in Guadeloupe and moved to Belgium at the age of two. ‘I could be that small girl.’ Polatoglu, herself of Turkish origin, adds: ‘Telling the story through the eyes of that eight-year-old girl makes refugees human again. That’s what Kamyon tells us: ‘They are people, with all the things, great and small, that make people human, and they are fleeing war. Please don’t let us reduce them to numbers.’

Hope. It all revolves around that too. And the human capacity for survival. Fanhan says: ‘The girl tells stories to keep herself going, thousands of them if necessary. That’s how she protects herself from the harsh reality.’ An escape within an escape. Polatoglu says: ‘A child adapts to any situation. The girl is not in a lorry, but in a spaceship. According to her, at least. These simple childish means of surviving only make it more tangible and harrowing.’

Fanhan says: ‘I hope that Kamyon will get people thinking, and perhaps even make them take action. The fine thing about performing on location is that all sorts of people come, not just seasoned theatre-goers. In Marseille a man came who had never been to the theatre before. In forty years. That day he came and watched three times.’


Interview by Kris Kuppens