Brighton theatre director brings laughter to refugee children

When the refugee crisis in Europe began dominating headlines, Marion travelled to Greece to perform for refugee children there.

Marion Rose Duggan Clowns Without Borders UK

Theatre director Marion, from Brighton, volunteers her time with Clowns Without Borders  © UNHCR/James Morgan


Name: Marion Rose Duggan

Age: 35

Occupation: Theatre director

Home: Brighton

Marion Rose Duggan is a theatre director and performer based in Brighton, UK. Some years ago, she was attending a clown course where she met Samantha Holdsworth, the director and founder of the UK chapter of Clowns Without Borders. Intrigued, she travelled and performed with the group – which seeks to provide respite through laughter for children living in crisis– to India and Zimbabwe.

Duggan, like the other artists involved with Clowns Without Borders, volunteers her time. When the refugee crisis in Europe began dominating headlines in 2015, she was deeply affected. And when an opportunity came to do something, she did not hesitate. She travelled with Clowns Without Borders UK to Greece to perform for refugees stranded there.

"I guess I’d been seeing a lot in the news – I don’t have a TV but just on social media – about the refugee crisis and was wondering what I could do about it other than ‘sharing’ posts. I was feeling slightly helpless when Samantha Holdsworth approached me and said that we’d had this donation to take the clowns to Greece to perform for refugees there. I didn’t hesitate.

We’d had this donation to take the clowns to Greece to perform for refugees there. I didn’t hesitate.

Clowns Without Borders tries to alleviate the suffering of children through laughter. We want them to laugh, we want them to be our children, even if it’s just for an hour our two. We’re working on that level; we’re innocent, like them.

In Idomeni camp, they’ve set up this cultural centre. They put a sign up saying the clowns were coming, so the children were already waiting for us. We walked on stage and they started clapping. So we started bowing. They kept clapping and we kept bowing. It just continued. Clowning is so innocent. You are looking into people’s eyes and you are communicating with them, with gestures and noises and expressions. In a way, it’s magic.

Marion Rose Duggan Clowns Without Borders UK clowning

Marion travelled to Greece with Clowns Without Borders UK to perform for refugee children  © UNHCR/James Morgan

This one little girl really wanted to show us where she was sleeping. She was staying in a train carriage and she was so proud to have guests and show us her bedroom and her mum and dad. You could just see, she was so: ‘oh I’ve got these funny people in these funny clothes coming to my house’. And, yeah, I guess we all want to feel like that: people want to feel pride in where they are living.

It was really beautiful sunshine that day. Then, out of nowhere, a thunderstorm hit, literally right above us. And what had been a relatively dry sturdy field, turned into this mud bath. I thought of the children who were living there, day in, day out. I went there in April. I can’t imagine what it would be like in January or December.

These people, these children, are living in absolute chaos. They’ve come from homes and jobs and there are people wearing smart trousers and expensive shoes, but they’re now living in tents. In India, though people are living in difficult circumstances, their lives have not been disrupted in this way. I could feel the brokenness of some people’s lives.

The show is a moment of calm for these children in amongst all that chaos they’re living in.

In India someone said to me: ‘children live what they see’. The show is, I guess, a moment of calm for these children in amongst all that chaos they’re living in. We’re kind of bringing it down to a safe space for them.

I think the thing for me is that I’ve witnessed something and I need to keep talking to people about it. Media aren’t telling the story. At least not the story I’ve seen. This crisis is a huge thing. We haven’t seen anything like it in our lifetimes. I guess that’s partly why I wanted to volunteer my time. I want to have children at some point. I want to be able to look them in the eyes and tell them I did something about these other children living in this situation."


Marion's story is part of a series about people across the UK showing refugees a #GreatBritishWelcome