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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Photos courtesy of Phosphoros Theatre

Written and directed by Dawn Harrison, Pizza Shop Heroes is a unique play based on true stories. The play was part of Migration Matters Festival, which usually takes place in Sheffield each June, however, this year took place online due to restrictions. The production has toured most of the UK and is produced by Phosphoros Theatre Company. The history of this company is truly inspiring as it engages mostly with refugees and asylum seekers, and not only that, the majority of the cast are made up of former unaccompanied minors – which gives the play a raw authenticity.

Pizza Shop Heroes follows the journey of four young men from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Albania travelling to the UK with hopes of seeking asylum. As suggested by the title of the play, the four young men work in a pizza shop, and this neutral location is where most of the play is set. The play functions chronologically, insisting that the audience are engaged at all times. The show also incorporates elements of humour and seriousness, making light of situations spectators would usually deem traumatic. What is remarkable about this play is that it is a genuine retelling of the actors' lives, and so they make sure to maintain their integrity. Pizza Shop Heroes explores some gripping themes such as fatherhood, colonial histories and the people left behind after displacement. Each theme is dealt with in different scenes that are explicitly introduced to the audience, which makes the play easier to understand.

The play as a whole is a captivating adventure. It is an unconventional coming of age story that is totally unfiltered and original. The characters are full of personality and that shines throughout the play; one actor that stands out to me is Syed Haleem Najibi, whose character (himself) is bursting with confidence and charisma. It is evident that each performer is connected through their individual stories, as they comfortably bounce off each other. A moment that expresses this is when the characters are kneading dough together and translating the word ‘bread’ in each of their native languages. Another moment in the play that presents the characters as one is when Emirjon hides in a lorry to enter the UK, and the actors move their bodies to represent what it feels like to hide in a service station. Since the show is full of provoking dialogue it’s hard to quote just one line, but one of the opening lines definitely struck a chord with me and that was: "we’re not here to make your conscience feel better."

Pizza Shop Heroes is a bold educational play that will make you uncomfortable, make you laugh, make you cry, make you want to break the third wall and give each actor a big hug. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. However, you try to conceal these intrusive emotions because the actors insist that we leave our pity at the door. The play paints the migrant crisis in a different light; it reveals to us that behind each refugee and asylum seeker there is a person with hopes and dreams. And hope is something Phosporos Theatre wants to leave their audience with. This play is a must watch – it is so essential that everyone sees it if they have the chance.

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