The Hero Next Door by Onjali Q. Rauf MBE
Directed by Annie Smol MBE and Jon French
Face Front Inclusive Theatre bring us award winning author Onjali Rauf’s new play “The Hero Next Door”. Aimed at 7 to 10’s it is a celebration of friendship, diversity and what can be achieved when we work together.
The story revolves around the three leads: Musa an Eritrean refugee, Haley an Autistic girl who has a pet tadpole, and Melody a would be bully but really a good person trying to be bad.
As the story begins, we find ourselves in the playground at school, where Musa and Haley, both feeling outsiders, united in their exclusion from the in crowd for different reasons, strike up a friendship. Melody then emerges and starts to display her bullying side which, for the audience, is deeply uncomfortable, and rightly so. In fact, as the story develops it is the change in Melody that is one of the most rewarding strands to follow.
Musa, who is living with foster parents, takes some post round to his next-door neighbour who it turns out is Melody’s grandfather, Harry. A kindly old gent in a wheelchair he immediately “gets” Musa. When Melody appears saying “What’s he doing here?“
Harry gives an impassioned speech about being an evacuee in the war and how he too was a refugee, berating her for her attitude. The cross generational bond between Harry and Musa is beautifully handled both in the dialogue and by the actors. At this stage we meet the villain of the piece Claudia, Harry’s carer who is in cahoots with her unseen partner Frank to rob Harry.
As the scenes move on Musa, in his bedroom, overhears Claudia in the garden next door planning to do the deed on Saturday night. Once he has been able to convince Haley and Melody next day at school, they agree to meet up at Harrys to devise a plan to catch them in the act. The show then builds up to the exciting and hilarious conclusion.
So what do we learn:
Musa, new to the country struggles to find the words in English, this hides the fact that he is fluent in many languages. Later, in conversation with Haley it transpires that his journey has taken him 17 months and that his family are still in Eritrea. Hidden behind every face shown scrambling out of a boat lies a story of immense hardship, brutality, suffering and loss.
Haley, marginalised by her autism shows us that to be different should not be seen as a weakness. When she challenges Claudia saying, “You’re a liar” It is her directness that leads them forward and empowers the group. When she first meets a troubled and nervous Musa her declaration “We are best friends now” reassures and comforts him. On hearing his story her words, “Musa I think you are very brave” validate his personal journey and acknowledge his courage.
Melody, who starts off an uncaring bully berating Musa for being a “sponging refugee”, is challenged by her beloved grandad Harry on her own ethnicity, leading her to start her own
journey, showing us that people can change. Whereas initially she would have nothing to do with Haley because she wasn’t cool and couldn’t follow her dance moves, by the end she is encouraging her to dance with her. A hugely significant difference in the playground.
Whilst being aimed at 7 to 10 year olds, the subject matter of “The Hero Next Door’ is compelling and forces the audience to hold up a mirror to our own unspoken views and unconscious bias.
Beautifully acted and directed and with such a powerful message, Onjali Rauf’s partnership with Face Front has created a piece that will, I’m sure live long beyond this current tour.
If this fractured and divided world is to have a chance, then our hopes lie in the hands and hearts of this next generation. If, instead of judgement and self-importance our starting points could be the empathy and compassion this piece promotes, then who knows, anything is possible.
These are the embers “The Hero Next Door” seeks to fan. May the flames roar….