ONE hundred years of personal stories has formed the basis of a new show which has just opened at the Southwark Playhouse.
Who Do We Think We Are? has been devised, conceived and written by Sonja Linden.
It is based on the family histories, photographs and memories of the 10-strong international cast, and is a very personal take on the last 100 years from 1914 to the present day.
It draws on the real life experiences from the actors involved including life in a Siberian prison camp during the Russian revolution, childhood experiences in India under the Raj, an escape from the Warsaw Ghetto, surviving the atomic bomb in Nagasaki and London in the swinging sixties.
The idea came about nearly two years ago when Sonja created her theatre company Visible which is made up of older actors and theatre professionals.
"We are all living longer and I realised there was a greater need for older people to be represented on stage," says Sonja.
"Visible is founded on the belief that tapping into the energy and talent of older theatre performers can reap rich artistic rewards and serve as an inspiration for audiences.
"It's also been my dream as a writer to be part of an international ensemble and to work collaboratively from day one in creating a piece of theatre.
"When I set up Visible with director Sue Lefton we invited people to come talk to us about their experiences and share their stories and ideas so we could create a show.
"Two of those we talked to happened to say that the First World War still affected them. One because his father, who had him very late in life, was in Russian Revolution.
“The other actor said his grandfather in Canada came back a broken man from the trenches.
“It was all powerful stuff and the idea for the piece came from there.”
Over a period of 18 months Sonja got in touch with a variety of actors from across the world and gathered their stories and memories. They then created the show which as well as the narrative features live music and movement with the actors telling their stories in a series of short scenes.
"The span of the piece is quite ambitious and it was quite a challenge to get it all together and to make sure that what comes across is truthful, sensitively done and respectful," says Sonja.
“It was the synchronicity of finding so many stories that have a big historical background that's been fascinating and we have all really enjoyed the process.
“For some of the cast it’s been a real journey of discovery. One woman plays her mother which was quite an amazing experience for her and another tells of her escape from the Warsaw Ghetto.
“But it’s an opportunity for them to share these memories and experiences. As a result the audience gets to hear and see some incredibly moving, funny and powerful stories.
"By the end of it you get a sense of where they have come from. But it's also a chance for us all to think about who we are and where we come from."
Who Do You Think You Are? is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, November 15. Tickets cost £18. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.