Telling the human story behind immigration

  • Date

    Fri 3 Nov 17

Dr Mary Mazzilli

With immigration high on the public agenda in recent years, a new play humanises the reality of migrant life by focusing on four people looking for a place to call home.


Priority Seating by drama lecturer Dr Mary Mazzilli explores the themes of migration, travel and lost and found identity, asking questions about modern society’s attitudes to migrants, whether they’re moving for economic, political or personal reasons.

“I’m originally from Italy and came to the UK in the mid-1990s,” says Dr Mazzilli. “The Brexit vote and discussion of immigration has highlighted fractures between segments of British society and made me rethink my position in this country as a European and now a migrant. I had also been thinking about the increasing divide between rich and poor, and access to rights and services in society.” 

The political landscape inspired Dr Mazzilli to lead a research project on the unheard stories of migrant communities. She and her team conducted in-depth interviews with people living in the North Essex region.

“Colchester is very multicultural for a mid-sized town,” Dr Mazzilli explains. “Having previously lived in China and south-east Asia, I was drawn to the idea of exploring the lives of our Chinese and Filipino communities. Moreover, having attended St James the Less and St Helen Catholic Church, I noticed a substantial Polish community which provided the project with a European perspective.”

Priority Seating follows four characters as they each journey to a place they hope to call home, their stories based on tales from the people Dr Mazzilli met during her research. She worked closely with Essex colleagues on the project. 

“Dr Carlos Gigoux Gramegna and Dr Renee Luthra who lead our new Centre for Migration Studies gave me great advice that helped me develop the research project. 

“[Fellow drama lecturer] Annecy Lax has expertise in theatre for social justice and has taken on the role of Dramaturge for the play. She is the external eye providing guidance and structure to the process of research and writing. She questions and frames my creative choices bearing in mind the themes and the shape of the overall play.
“With this play I wanted to entertain with real-life and absurdist innuendos, but above all to challenge, to open a debate on the importance of an open and accessible society.”

A rehearsed reading of ‘Priority Seating’ will be staged at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester on Friday 17 November and will be followed by a panel discussion with local councillors and experts. The play is part of the AHRC Being Human festival and the project has been funded by IIA Impact Fund and Arts Council of England.