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Review: Villanova Theatre’s The Scar Test Shines in Virtual Presentation

By Shawn Proctor

The Scar Test Scene


“Women cry, are dragged out screaming. Where do they go?”

This line of dialogue, delivered late in the play by a detainee without a name, cuts to the heart of Villanova Theatre’s The Scar Test, which streamed online March 25-April 4.

Hannah Khalil

Hannah Khalil, playwright of The Scar Test

The person provides merely one of the fragmented stories that create Hannah Khalil’s play. And, together, their narratives explore and illuminate the lives of those individuals detained at Yari’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in the United Kingdom. The centre holds hundreds of women who are seeking asylum from their countries. It has been described as “inhumane” by detainees who receive spoiled food and report racial abuse by staff.

This virtual production, lasting an hour and recorded socially distanced and masked, renders its eight ensemble cast members even more anonymous. Their faces are obscured, except for their eyes.

From afar, it underlines that their humanity has been stripped away. They could be anyone. They could be us.

But the online format also provides a focus unavailable to theatre performed on stage. Director Claire Moyer and Director of Photography Michael Long use the camera to push the viewer to both look closer and not look away. This eye does not let the audience’s attention wander to study the set or secondary characters in the scene. And even masked, the detainees’ intimate struggles come through, as they are forced to relive and defend their reasons for fleeing their countries: the scar test.

The issue of immigration is complicated and fraught. And current Charles A. Heimbold Chair for Irish Studies Hannah Khalil treats it with complexity and nuance, largely allowing the quiet desperation of the situation permeate the scenes.

They appear. They disappear.

They have no names, and we are not told their fates. But what remains is their stories, along with this burning question: “What do we do now?”

Khalil will present a digital lecture and reading as part of the 2021 Villanova Literary Festival on Thursday, April 15, 2021, at 5 p.m. Register here.

Shawn Proctor is Communications and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Memorial Library.



Villanova Theatre Preview: The Scar Test

Scar poster
By Hannah Khalil
Directed by Claire Moyer
Streaming on demand March 25–April 4

“We’re in prison. But we’ve done nothing wrong…I just–I can’t believe this is England.”

They expected to be free from the horrors of their homelands when they finally fled to the United Kingdom; instead, imprisoned together at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, a cohort of asylum seekers find themselves stuck in limbo, stripped of their privacy, and isolated a world away from the lives they used to know.

Based on interviews with current and former detainees, Irish-Palestinian playwright Hannah Khalil’s The Scar Test offers a powerful and unflinching snapshot of life inside England’s migrant detention system. Fiercely felt and fearlessly told, The Scar Test is an incendiary theatrical experience that will stay with you long after the performance has ended. Click here for more information and a content advisory. Check out the teaser video for the show.

An award-winning Palestinian Irish playwright and dramatist, Hannah Khalil is Villanova University’s 2021 Charles A. Heimbold Jr. Chair of Irish Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for the spring 2021 semester. The visiting writer-in-residence program offers Irish Studies students the enriching experience of a close classroom experience with one of Ireland’s finest authors.

$10 suggested donation per viewer.
Run time: approximately one hour.

Content Warnings:
Racism, Sexism/misogyny, Homophobia, Transphobia, References to and discussion of Sexual assault/rape, Abuse, Self-harm/suicide, Death, Kidnapping/abduction, blood, gunshots.

Learn more about Hannah Khalil and The Scar Test:

  • Falvey’s collection include several of Hannah Khalil’s books, in addition to The Scar Test.
  • Learn more about Hannah Khalil and her plays on Drama Online.
  • Watch The Scar Test in Conversation” with The Scar Test Production Dramaturg Kate Fischer and Director Claire Moyer. They spoke with Margaret O’Sullivan, Executive Director of Nationalities Service Center and Michele R. Pistone, Professor of Law at Villanova and Director of the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee, and Emigrant Services at Villanova.



Last Modified: March 24, 2021

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