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Songs from the detention centre: the drama set on immigration's frontline

Developed at London’s dynamic Yard theatre, Removal Men is a musical tragicomedy that gives an eye-opening portrait of detention officers’ work. Its creators, MJ Harding and Jay Miller, explain how it captures a fractured Britain

It started with MJ Harding, a founding member of the band Fat White Family, singing a comic song in the character of an immigration officer. When the Yard theatre’s artistic director, Jay Miller, saw Harding’s performance at a club in London, he immediately saw the dramatic possibilities. Now Harding’s debut play Removal Men, a show with songs set in an immigration detention centre, is at the Yard in a production directed by Miller.

The play arrives in the wake of the Brexit vote and in a climate of confusion and division that has seen race-hate attacks increase and attitudes towards migrants harden. It follows three people working in an immigration removal centre, where funding for the compassionate officer programme – designed to help officers resolve the tension between their detention duties and the duty of care they have to the people they are processing for deportation – has been cut. Miller says the play is about love, grief and violence.

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