From Mar. 25-April 4, Villanova Theater’s production of “The Scar Test” was available for streaming. The show could be accessed via a link acquired through registration, which was free for all audience members, and a $10 donation per viewer was suggested.
“The Scar Test” was written by Hannah Khalil, a writer of Palestinian-Irish heritage, who was awarded the prestigious Heimbold Chairship for Villanova University during Spring 2021. The production was directed by Claire Moyer, freelance director and the Associate Director and Literary Manager for Inis Nua Theatre Company in Philadelphia.
The production is introduced on Villanova Theater’s website with a compelling quote from the script.
“We’re in prison,” the script writes. “But we’ve done nothing wrong…I just–I can’t believe this is England.”
Villanova Theater goes on to detail a general summary of the show, which highlights the brutal truths of a migrant detention center in England and the horrors that the women entrapped there face.
“They expected to be free from the horrors of their homelands when they finally fled to the United Kingdom; instead, imprisoned together at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, a cohort of asylum seekers find themselves stuck in limbo, stripped of their privacy, and isolated a world away from the lives they used to know,” Villanova Theater says. “Based on interviews with current and former detainees, Irish-Palestinian playwright Hannah Khalil’s ‘The Scar Test’ offers a powerful and unflinching snapshot of life inside England’s migrant detention system. Fiercely felt and fearlessly told, ‘The Scar Test’ is an incendiary theatrical experience that will stay with you long after the performance has ended.”
Throughout the play, the small group of actors were able to seamlessly transition to and from completely different characters, with entirely different backgrounds and roles. The different detainees also had entirely different accents, which was very impressive, and the audience could easily figure out where each character had immigrated from due to the actors’ successful execution of these voices.
The actors were able to transform such a simple set in a drastically impressive manner. They essentially only had chairs, a desk and a bed frame to work with, but the choices they made and their execution allowed the audience to imagine an entire elaborate, cold, harsh detention center at the English border. Their use of the space and the simple props got their messages across and left just enough for the audience to imagine.
The play was heartbreakingly powerful and sent an important message regarding the realities of our democratic systems, both on a national and global scale. The women detainees are forced to suffer through constant surveillance by brutish male guards who constantly violate their privacy, all the whilst trying to recover from the traumas they have endured in the places they are fleeing from. To make matters worse, there are impossible language barriers between these women and the volunteers and lawyers who are trying to help them, making them almost entirely out of control of their fates. The play sent a strong statement about how these disturbing systems require immediate, drastic change in order for them to be even remotely humane environments.
The actors and production team of “The Scar Test”were extremely talented and impressive. The team had to abide by strict social distancing guidelines and all wore masks and remained at least six feet apart for the entire duration of the show. They faced these obstacles with poise and creativity, finding new ways to express emotion while their faces were covered by a mask, and exhibiting other ways of physical interaction besides touch and proximity. The audience greatly benefited from these actors and their incredible work, and they did this important script justice amid unthinkable obstacles.
Veshonte Brown, a first year graduate student receiving her Master of Arts in Theatre with a certificate in Nonprofit Management, was a key actor in the production, taking on four characters. She spoke on the experience of putting on a show during the pandemic and the difficulties and rewards the cast encountered.
“‘Scar Test’ is the result of a bunch of people coming together and deciding to do theater in spite of hardship,” Brown said. “And it was magic because of that. Every actor and member of the production worked hard to keep each other and our colleagues safe. We followed Covid protocols. We were kind to each other, acknowledged and addressed our anxieties about the pandemic. And our reward was the show. For a lot of us, doing theater felt impossible six months ago. But ‘The Scar Test’ was a testament that there is a way to tell amazing stories while being safe.”