Dramatist who fled Russia puts spotlight on asylum phobia

When Victor Sobchak directed a version of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar in Russia in 1981, the combination of Western decadence and religion so appalled the Soviet regime that he was dispatched to a mental hospital in Siberia.

He spent six months there on tranquillisers at sub-zero temperatures, as both a punishment and a warning not to reoffend. There was, he stresses, not a hint of genuine psychiatric illness.

Despite glimmerings of change in the years of Mikhail Gorbachev that followed, Sobchak viewed the arrival of Boris Yeltsin as a return to the dark days. So at the end of a theatrical world tour which began at the Edinburgh Festival, he returned to the UK and applied for asylum, which was finally granted two years ago. He has now turned the years of uncertainty into a play that he hopes will shed light on the process for both aspiring immigrants and resident Brits.

At the Cochrane Theatre in London, the world premiere of F*****g Asylum Seekers is running until 23 April - just in time, he hopes, to shed new light on an issue that is set to be a key election battleground.

In the play, a group of heavily accented strangers arrive at the door of Stuart, who has always been a bit of a loser. Little by little, the strangers take away everything he holds dear.

Sobchak, 46, said most asylum cases were sad stories. "But I really didn't want to repeat all those stories. For me it was more interesting to use the famous British humour and the tradition of British black humour to create something farcical."

He takes the paranoia and fear that asylum-seekers can provoke to an absurd - and terrifying - conclusion. "I wanted to use British fear and prejudice towards foreigners and foreigners' prejudice towards British people as well," he said.

Looking back, he thinks his original act of rebellion in producing his show based upon Jesus Christ Superstar was "quite dangerous and silly of me because it was propaganda of religion to young people and there was the problem of Western influence because it was rock music".

He said that he hoped people would find his play funny and entertaining but that it would also make them think about the arguments.

A REFUGEE'S VIEW

"My first reaction after the play is that it's a good work, this play has covered the subject quite well to make the public aware of the asylum-seekers issue. The main actor is a British guy with a right-wing attitude. One night, a family from eastern Europe arrives in his house; they simply claim it's their house. This is the ironical picture of what people usually think of asylum-seekers. But the story has only dealt with white asylum-seekers. So, this play didn't go really deep into the asylum issue. It was mainly a comedy, and aimed to make people laugh about asylum issues, not really to show the real problems behind."

Zoe Neirizi, a solicitor from Iran, came to the UKin April 1993 and was given refugee status in December 1994.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project