Lilian - Katarzyna Głowicka International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn

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Katarzyna Głowicka Lilian
Katarzyna Głowicka music, text, dramaturgy
Hilary Beaton Lilian
Mark Bishop Tesfay
Ian Cullen Lilian’s husband
Katarzyna Głowicka nurse
With thanks to Professor Mirjam van Reisen



A story of hope and humanity in a harsh world, 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 humour 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.”