radio play – 25 min.
Kasia Głowicka – music, text, dramaturgy.
Hilary Beaton – Lilian
Mark Bishop – Tesfay
Ian Cullen – Lilian’s husband
Kasia Głowicka – nurse
with thanks to professor Mirjam van Reisen.
Based on a true story, Lilian is a radio play written, directed and composed by Kasia Głowicka. It draws on real events documented in a 350-page transcript of WhatsApp conversations between a European professor of human rights and a refugee in Libya.
Worlds apart in geography and culture, the two protagonists are brought together by technology. Their shared journey takes them through dark times punctuated by moments of humor before ultimately proving why hope should never be abandoned.
In early 2019, the European Union withdrew its rescue ships from the Mediterranean just as the civil war in Libya escalated. As Libya burned and the sea became too threatening, refugees found themselves stranded in makeshift detention centres.
Held in the infamous Zitan Detention Centre, from which the source messages were first sent, the young Tesfay obtains a phone number for a human rights professor in Europe and contacts her to appeal for assistance.
The eponymous Lilian does all that she can from her home in Brussels, but the bureaucratic process is slow. Her mind is also occupied with worries about her daughter, who is comatose in hospital and attached to a life-support machine.
“The refugee crisis is one of today’s most critical issues, but the themes it presents are eternal and universal: hope, justice, human fraternity. Technology brings the characters together but their bond is completely human,” says Głowicka.
“Creating my first-ever radio play was a challenge, especially because it’s the first time anyone has adapted an archive of WhatsApp messages into a production. I also wanted to maintain authenticity, so I worked remotely with a voice actor in Africa to play Tesfay.
“Poland is a fitting location for this premiere. The play raises exactly the kind of social issues that the right-wing PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) government has been trying to censor. It’s brave of the Warsaw Autumn Festival to present this play in such a climate.”
Lilian was premiered on two independent Polish radio stations, Radio Kapitał and Radio Jesień, on September 24th, 2020.
Below fragment of review from “Opera Wire” by Polina Lyapustina
Although Katarzyna Głowicka noted that the story illustrates the power of hope and that the two main characters are united by their shared sense of humanity, I could only see this piece revealing that none of our kindest motives can go over the borders and that only the powerlessness unites people in the modern world. We can only sit, and type messages, and wait. And, yes, through this we can find hope and trust.
“Lilian” is a story that might have to be told as a story of hope because nobody wants to hear it simply as it is. And it is one of the first attempts to bring such a difficult and bleak topic into the opera world—the world that seemed to have the right sound for everything before— love, war, betrayal. But this? Nothing sounds right for it.
By the end of my discourse, a bright cross-discipline example comes to my mind. As an experienced graphic designer, I work with empty spaces more often than with objects. White space—black letters, short sentences—it’s all clear. Negative space helps me to focus attention on the words and meanings; it screams “Look, only this matters!” And no decorations are needed.
Kasia Głowicka didn’t want to make it easier, brighter, or more beautiful for us. And therefore, she hasn’t decorated her work. Her awareness is enough—it’s already overwhelming. I believe she craved to bring us a both-sides perspective on the war conflict, in which we all are involved—in our warm beds, or cells—in our common impotence. Only music can awaken and empower us. Music can heal.
Silence is violent. It’s heavy, dark, and merciless. And while humankind is waiting to be saved by a single sound, the silence doesn’t need any reinforcement at all.
Are we ready to hear it?