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The Scar Test - Soho Theatre and on tour

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

UNTOLD Arts is presenting the world premiere of The Scar Test. A new play by Soho Theatre Westminster Prize award-winning writer Hannah Khalil, it opens at The Place, Bedford on June 21 (during Refugee Week 2017).

The production then tours to STUN in Manchester (June 23) and The Bohemian Balcony in Swindon (June 26 and 27) before transferring to London’s Soho Theatre, where it runs from July 5 to July 22, 2017.

The Scar Test offers a powerful and disturbing snapshot of life inside the infamous Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Based on verbatim interviews and extensive research, it depicts the controversial and unsettling conditions faced by the women detained there, highlighting the urgent, widely unknown reality of immigration control in Britain.

Described as a “place of national concern” by the Prisons Watchdog in 2015, Yarl’s Wood is one of 11 similar detention centres around the UK where residents are held awaiting immigration clearance or deportation. A controversial centre, it houses women refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom came to the UK fleeing torture and abuse, including sexual violence.

The Scar Test tells the fictional stories of 11 female characters held in this disturbing place, where those most in need are kept under lock and key and denied basic human rights. Their lives are regulated, privacy is non-existent and they are offered minimal medical assistance.

Taking its title from a procedure used to determine whether detainees have undergone torture in their home countries (despite the fact not all forms of torture leave external scars), The Scar Test uses physical theatre, humour and multiple languages to provide a compelling snapshot of daily life at the Centre.

Playwright Hannah Khalil said: “The first time I visited Yarl’s Wood was in early 2016. It’s very odd, you drive along winding country lanes and then there’s suddenly an industrial estate, like a Premier Inn but behind barbed wire. I don’t think enough people realise that this is happening in the UK, right now and it is not acceptable. On a broader scale I’d hope it’s a stark warning about what can happen if we start to see other people as different or less deserving than we are. That way absolute danger lies as we should know from the past…”

Hannah Khalil’s previous work includes Scenes from 68* Years (Arcola Theatre), The Deportation Room and Last of the Pearl Fishers (both BBC Radio 4) and the Meyer-Whitworth Award nominated Plan D (Tristan Bates Theatre).

The Scar Test is directed by Sara Joyce (assistant director on Nice Fish by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins) and performed by Janet Etuk, Nadia Nadif, Shazia Nicholls, Rebecca Omogbehin and Lucy Sheen.

Tickets (for Soho Theatre): From £10 – available from the box office on 020 7478 0100 or online at

Times: 7pm, with matinees at 4pm on Saturday, July 15 and 22. No performance on Sundays.