Nine Lives nominated – Vote for Us!

So much is going on with Leeds Studio and Nine Lives at the moment – we barely have time to write about it! (like going BACK ON TOUR from 27th September)

More news coming soon but in meantime Zodwa Nyoni’s Nine Lives is nominated for a prestigious Alfred Fagon Audience Award. There are SO MANY brilliant plays on this list that we feel like winners already but please do vote for us! We appreciate it and will send you warm thoughts and virtual hugs.

You can vote here and voting is open until 16th October.


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New Tour Dates for Nine Lives


We are very pleased to say Nine Lives, our now critically and audience acclaimed show by Zodwa Nyoni performed by Lladel Bryant, will be touring again this Autumn, presented by House.

We kinda wish it wasn’t so but this story of a young gay asylum seeker from Zimbabwe is even more relevant than when we first started performing it, all the way back in 2014. Nine Lives combines insight, humour, and humanity to tell the real story behind the headlines.

Have a safe and peaceful summer everyone. We’ll see you in the Autumn.


Tue 27 Sept 7.45pm

Stratford Circus Arts Centre, London  020 8279 1080


Wed 28 Sept 7.30pm

The Place, Bedford  01234 354321


Thur 29 Sept 7.30pm

The Old Firestation, Oxford  01865 263990


Fri 30 Sept 7.45pm

Key Theatre, Peterborough  01733 207239


Sat 1 Oct 7.30pm

The Cryer, Sutton  020 3771 9317


Sun 2 Oct 7.30pm

Marlborough Theatre Brighton  0800 411 8881


Tues 22 Nov 7.30pm

Corn Hall, Diss  01379 652241


Wed 23 Nov 8pm

Sheringham Little Theatre, Sheringham  01263 822347


Thur 24 Nov 7.30pm

Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead  01628 788997


Fri 25 Nov 7.30pm

The Hat Factory (studio), Luton  01582 878100


Sun 27 Nov 7pm

The Observer Building, Hastings  07813 03 55 14


Wed 30 Nov 7.30pm

The Phoenix Theatre and Arts Centre, Bordon  01420 472664


Thur 1 Dec 8pm

The Stage Door, Southampton  02380 711818


Fri 2 Dec 8pm

Bridport Arts Centre, Bridport  01308 424204


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Nine Lives goes to Paris

Our production of Nine Lives by Zodwa Nyoni, performed by Lladel Bryant will be part of the programme of the first Paris Fringe Festival. We are performing at Les Feux de la Rampe on 24th and 25th May. If you are in Paris, can get to Paris or know anyone in Paris please do come see the show!

If you are a refugee charity in France or LGBT organisation and think we can connect or support you in any way please get in touch.



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Why Stories Matter

This is a slightly edited version of the presentation I gave at the Symposium on Arts, Academia and Asylum at Arcola Theatre January 2016 organised by Alice Mukaka, for University of East London, in association with Leeds Studio.

In the end, it was a photograph that did it. I’ve been working with refugees and refugee organisations for three years and in that time a large part of the conversation has been about how to raise awareness, how to engage the empathy of a British public who, with very notable exceptions, seemed indifferent or openly hostile to people seeking sanctuary in our country or at our borders.

Then that photograph happened. The seemingly sleeping body of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi washed up on the shore of Turkey grabbed hold of the public imagination in a way that thousands of statistics never had. The outpouring of outrage, sympathy, support and love was extraordinary; in the next few weeks a quarter of people in the UK donated something, money or possessions, to refugees.

Stories matter. It is the story that we see through a single image. A child who could be our child. Who could be us. This moves us in the way that facts and figures don’t. Although I remain deeply conflicted about the use of that photo and vehemently disagree with anyone using it now, it undeniably had a huge effect at the time.

Stories matter. There are millions of refugee stories. The largest refugee crisis since WWII cannot be contained in a single image. Soon after that, we had the kickback: they can’t be ‘real’ refugees if they are not Syrian; look they are young, strong men, how could they be fleeing persecution. The Syrian crisis is a particularly present issue, driving millions away from their homes (95% of whom are in just 5 countries next to Syria – Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Jordon). But there are many reasons why men, women and children are driven away from their countries to seek safety elsewhere. It is a universal right to seek asylum. Everyone deserves to have their story fairly heard.

Our play, Nine Lives by Zodwa Nyoni performed by Lladel Bryant, tells the story of Ishmael, an asylum seeker in Leeds. It tells the complex story of being moved through the asylum system, of being made powerless and anonymous, of being met with hostility, and with love, from the native population, of an already traumatised man being re-traumatised by a system designed to deal with you as a problem not as a person. It also tells the particular story of a gay asylum seeker from Zimbabwe. The story of LGBTQI asylum seekers is that of a minority within a minority. Until recently it was practice to ask asylum seekers to ‘prove’ their sexuality, or to tell them they can go home and ‘live quietly’. The enormously high burden of ‘proof’ means that the UK refuses 99% of all asylum claims based on sexuality on first application.

We started this production in 2014. I was then Associate Director of West Yorkshire Playhouse and had applied, and among fierce competition, got Zodwa Nyoni on a Channel 4 Residence at the theatre. As part of the residency I commissioned her, along with Oran Mor in Glasgow to write a one-act play for A Play, A Pie and A Pint. Zodwa came up with the title and the idea. It was inspired by a friend of hers, an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe who was dispersed to Leeds and living in a shared flat in an Armley tower block. It came from her observation of him looking out over the city but unable to take part in the life he saw there. As she was researching the stories of young, male asylum seekers she came across a blog called Free Movement about the experience of a young bisexual asylum seeker and the kind of questioning he had received. That was the starting point for Ishmael’s story.

The play doesn’t tell you the statistics. It doesn’t tell you all the details of Ishmael’s case or even its outcome. It connects you to him as a human being. It reminds you that everyone going through this experience is a person, an individual with his or her own hopes, dreams, histories and stories. Not as some very unhelpful commentators and politicians would have it: ‘cockroaches’, ‘vermin’, ‘swarms’. To quote my favorite review from Tim Bano in Time Out: ‘Ishmael’s is only one story, but that’s the point: it’s his and his alone. He’s not a swarm anymore. He’s human.’

The course of this production has charted the course of the issue of refugees in the public consciousness: to begin with few outside of those actively involved really knew or cared about the issue. Then suddenly the issue broke into public awareness, a paradigm shift of such magnitude it can only be that the knowledge, the awareness was there all along, waiting for permission to become conscious. Some of the volunteer organisations we knew struggled to keep up with the volume of donations and vehemence of the ‘debate’. Such an almighty change in public opinion that it even had hitherto intransigent government promising to take 20,000 Syrian refugees. A still inadequate reaction to the situation but showing the change happens, mountains do move. Yet as if to prove for every action there is a reaction, immediately following the attacks on Paris we saw a sudden swing the other way in media and in politics. In just hours following, even we started picking up negative, worried or aggressive comments on social media, some of which we could engage with, some of which we couldn’t. Now in 2016, with 32,000 people having arrived in Greece in one month alone, what story, what stories are being told matters more than ever.

Through it all it has felt important to tell this story, of Ishmael and the other characters of the play. Because his story is of one of the most vulnerable, and often overlooked, the LGBT asylum story is often that of the ‘excluded by the excluded’ as the play says. As his individual story, it stands for all the individual stories, not just of all asylum seekers, but all of us. Nine Lives connects us to all of the characters, and all of the characters to each other. We each have our own, inalienable humanity, each worthy of respect and acknowledgment.

I was asked in a post-show discussion while on tour were we not only preaching to the converted. That the lovely theatre audience is likely to agree with us already. Well yes, and no. Over the life of the production so far we have played to great variety of people – those going through or who have gone through these experiences, those with a great deal of knowledge of asylum, those with very little. What the play does is bring Ishmael’s story to life, and those of the people he meets, who may accept or reject him, and why. What we then do is offer simple practical ways people can get involved whether that is reading more information, donating to a charity, joining in a local group. In many places we have been working with refugee artists and arts activities with refugees and asylum seekers. Just at this run at the Arcola we have been very privileged to display the work of Bern O’Donohugh; Platforma and Counterpoints Arts are presenting three gigs of refugee and migrant musicians and poets; and we’ve raised money for UKLGIG through a fundraising Gala. Through touring we can reach a few 1000s of people. Not big numbers but any way we can get these stories out matters. And in drama no one had to die to tell them.

Stories matter. Not just to the ones who didn’t know the story but to the ones to whom the story belongs. In Swansea one man approached our actor Lladel after the performance, ‘Thank you for your story’ he said. Lladel explained it wasn’t actually his story. ‘But it is mine’ he replied ‘Everyone should hear this story.’ Everyone wants to be seen, to be understood, to be a person. People seeking asylum have had everything taken from them, their dignity, safety, their own sense of self. Taking part in arts, singing, playing, drawing, dancing, telling stories gives back that sense of self, that sense of connection to other human beings. Seeing your story reflected on stage can do the same, you have been seen, understood, acknowledged. If the play was to have a message, it would be that hope lies in the human connection between people, whoever they may be.

Your stories matter. Both your own personal story – who you are and what you want to do, what has led you here and what you will take away with you. And the stories that you tell in your work and in your life. All of us tell stories, in your research, through narratives, through arguments, evidence, statistics, through arts or pictures or enabling others to tell their story themselves. By doing the best we can, by doing what we are best at, we can make these stories have an effect on others, and affect the world we live in. And we can have more of an effect by working together – not by trying to be something we are not but using what we do to best advantage. I’m best at directing and producing plays – by doing this play and collaborating with academics, artists and organisations we have raised money, debate, awareness and given a platform for refugees to perform. We may have only shifted the world a little bit, but shift it we have.

Stories have power, the stories we tell transform us. Stories can take flight, change the mind of a government, change the mood of a country. The stories that are told and the people who get to tell them matter because they shape our understanding of the world. Let’s tell all the stories that we can.

Alex Chisholm

Photograph by Richard Lakos, of Lladel Bryant as Ishmael in Zodwa Nyoni’s Nine Lives

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Nine Lives at the Arcola, London

Dear all,


before we all disappear in a welter of mince pies and stuffing (or however you choose to celebrate Christmas/midwinter/festivals) just letting you all know that Nine Lives will be performing at the Arcola theatre in London for the WHOLE of January. We’d love to see you there. And if you’ve seen it already do tell EVERYONE you know in London to come see us.

Tickets and information available here

There are free tickets for refugees at every performance and free events with refugee and migrant artists on Saturday afternoons in association with Counterpoints Arts and Platforma.

Platforma Jam

16 January, 5.30-6.30pm
Five friends from four continents bring you songs, sounds and spoken word from Ethiopia, Palestine and beyond. Featuring Haymanot Tesfa, Leila Seguin, Duncan Mortimer, EbsilBaz, Emily Zaraa.Free – book now

Music from Zimbabwe

23 January, 5.30-6.30pm
A trio of mbira players based in the UK: Fungai Gahadzikwa, Doug Langley and Takudzwa Mukiwa. Free – book now

Bards Without Borders

30 January, 5.30-6.30pm
Spoken word inspired by the work of William Shakespeare by performers from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Free – book now

Have great holiday and see you at the Arcola in January.

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Leeds fundraiser performance in aid of No Going Back

Nine Lives after a triumphant tour around the country is returning to Leeds for ONE NIGHT ONLY. On Tuesday 15 December we will be at Oxford Place Methodist centre opposite the Town Hall at 7.30pm for a special fundraising performance in aid of No Goin Back the LGBT Asylum Charity. The performance is FREE with all donations going straight to the charity. Come support!

Book here

Or turn up on the night. See you there!

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Extra gig in Doncaster with refugee musician, Mina Salama

We are delighted that Nine Lives in Doncaster will be joined by the brilliant Egyptian, and Doncaster based, musician – Mina Salama. This will be in double-bill with the Nine Lives performance at Cast in Doncaster on Thursday 12 November, starting at 7.45pm and FREE to all attenders to the show.

Mina Salama

Declaration Kriol with Rafiki Jazz at Sensoria 2013 Sheffield at Shakespeare Pub

Declaration Kriol with Rafiki Jazz at Sensoria 2013 Sheffield at Shakespeare Pub

Immersed in Coptic liturgical, Arabic and European classical & filmscore music, and with a blossoming international career as a multi-instrumentalist with the Alexandria Opera House Orchestra, Mina improbably found himself seeking asylum here in 2012.

To our delight he is now surfacing as a talented and in-demand musician with his virtuosity, drive and sensitivity leading to commissions & collaborations across our polyglot UK world music scene, including performing, composing and recording with MIRO Manchester International Roots Orchestra, Rafiki Jazz, with the Haymanot Tesfa Trio, and with Turkish live-artist Aysegul Balkose.

Mina has performed at the Edinburgh Festival 2014, Celebrating Sanctuary Southbank 2013 & 2014, AHRC Connected Communities Festival Cardiff 2014, Journeys Festival 2014 Leicester, Manchester Bridgewater Hall 2013, Platforma Festival 2013, and is currently working on Haymanot Tesfa‘s solo recording project with Arian Sadr, on MIRO’s debut CD, and on Rafiki Jazz‘s 3rd album project.

Here he is in action with Rafiki Jazz & singer Sarah Yaseen:

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Nine Lives National Tour Dates Announced

It’s Friday. It’s the last day of July and before you all head off for holiday/Edinburgh/bed (delete as applicable) get a load of these beautiful tour dates. We are going EVERYWHERE so there really will be a performance coming somewhere near(ish) you. So get booking and we’ll see you in the Autumn. All rested and ready to play (except for those going to Edinburgh – you’ll be knackered).

Nine Lives Tour Dates

Friday 25 Sept 7.30pm Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea 01792 602060

Sun 27 Sept 3pm Wakefield Lit Festival 01924 215550

Mon & Tues 28 & 29 Sept 7.30pm Burton-Taylor Studio, Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305

Sat 3 Oct 8pm Ilkley Literature Festival, Ilkley Playhouse 01943 816714 Booking opens in September

Mon 12 Oct 7.30pm The Bikeshed, Exeter 01392 434169

Sat 17 Oct 7.30pm Trinity Bristol 0117 9351200

Fri 23 Oct 7.30pm Malvern Cube or via Malvern TIC 01684 892289

Fri 6 Nov 7.30pm Upstairs at the Western Leicester 

Thurs 12 Nov 7.45pm CAST, Doncaster 01302 303959

Mon 16 Nov 1.30pm 7.30pm Waterside Arts Centre, Sale 0161 912 5616

Thurs 19 Nov 7pm ARC, Stockton 01642 525199 Pay what you decide

Tues 8 Dec 7pm Nottingham Contemporary Free event – booking open in Sept

Thurs 10 Dec 7.30pm Brighton and Hove Sanctuary on Sea – booking open in Sept

Weds 6 – Sat 30 Jan 8pm Arcola Theatre, London 020 7503 1646

NL leaflets 2

Our leaflets have arrived!

Our leaflets have arrived!

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News: Nine Lives to be published by Methuen

We are very, very excited to share with you that Nine Lives is being published by Methuen Drama along with Zodwa’s monologue Come To Where I’m From. So now you will have the chance to take Nine Lives home with you, read it, cherish it. Full of brilliant monologues for men and women – for all those auditioning/showcasing actors among you.

It will be available to buy from performance venues. Or if you want to order a copy from us just drop me a line at alex[at]

Play text cover image

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Last Leeds Date coming up (national tour coming soon)

Hello folks,

sorry it’s been a bit quiet here for a while. Been very busy taking Nine Lives out on the road (actually more out on the rail – this is a very public transport tour). Thank you to everyone who has made it already to see us – we’ve had fantastic time in Holbeck, Liverpool, Sheffield and Hebden Bridge.

If you haven’t made it yet Nine Lives is COMING BACK TO LEEDS. This is the LAST Leeds date before we head off on a National Tour this Autumn (dates being announced SOON).

So if you are in Leeds or anywhere near come see us on Monday 27th July at 7pm at the fabulous Chapel FM in Seacroft. We’re in a double bill with local writer and composer due Peter Spafford and Richard Ormorod and their piece Threshold:

Threshold is about leaving home

and casting yourself upon the world, upon the kindness of strangers. It’s also about
the refusal of hospitality, fear of strangers, of the unfamiliar. I suppose it’s about
wandering and searching for/finding your place.

Tickets are Pay What You Decide and available here 

And just to tickle your fancy here are some of the things that people have been saying about the show. Enjoy!

‘I thought the performance was outstanding. I was very impressed by the range of emotional ups and downs that Mr Bryant exposed to the audience. I didn’t expect that such a range of immigrant experiences would be discussed and I liked the critique of class. The script is simply poetic and brilliantly written’ (Professor Barbara McCaskill (Athens-Georgia, US), interested audience member, Liverpool)

‘Really powerful and truthful, didn’t make fun of the characters. Just honest and playful. Really very emotional and touching…It deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible. As a daughter of immigrants I felt very affected by narrative’ (Tuktu Barbaros, London)

‘Best thing I’ve seen in ages, loved the performance and the writing. Made me laugh and made me cry’ (Giona Hesselden,  Hebden Bridge)

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