A three and a half-metre puppet of a refugee girl is to travel an 8,000-kilometre route across Europe as part of a pioneering public project shining a spotlight on millions of displaced children around the world.
The theatrical team behind The Jungle, a dramatisation of the life of migrants living in northern France, and the creators of the puppets from the hit musical War Horse are billing The Walk as their most ambitious work to date.
The joint production by Good Chance Theatre and Handspring Puppet Company will dramatise the perilous journey faced by thousands of children every year as they travel from the Middle East across Europe.
The puppet of a nine-year-old refugee girl called Little Amal will walk from the Turkey-Syria border, across Turkey and through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France to reach the UK.
It is expected she will cross the sea between Turkey and Greece, and from Greece to Italy, as well as the English Channel, by boat.
Across the sprawling stage of the whole continent, Little Amal will search for her mother, stopping at 70 towns, cities and villages along the way promoting the message “don’t forget us”.
The huge puppet brings together experienced puppeteers with cutting-edge technology to make Little Amal as lifelike as possible.
One puppeteer on stilts controls her body, hips and legs while her arms are controlled by a revolving team. Her eyes are controlled using computer technology.
Beginning in April 2021 and ending three months later, The Walk will bring together celebrated artists, major cultural institutions, community groups and humanitarian organisations to create one of the most adventurous public artworks ever attempted, culminating in a large-scale outdoor event at Manchester International Festival in July 2021.
With each step of the journey documented and shared online, international audiences will be invited to share Little Amal’s story and those of the thousands of people she will meet.
As part of an accompanying Lands in Exile programme, acclaimed Syrian artists will create public art installations for many of the stops on Amal's route. These works will reflect on the theme of exile, inviting audiences to think about the meaning of "home".
An education programme will run in tandem with The Walk's artistic events. Before, during and after her journey, Little Amal will connect with young people from refugee and non-refugee communities through creative learning projects developed exclusively for each location.
Stephen Daldry, producer of The Walk, said Amal would carry a message of hope to different cultures across Europe.
"Little Amal’s story transcends borders and language to highlight the challenges that refugee children face, challenges that are even more pressing during this pandemic,” he said.
“But she is also a figure of great hope. At times like these we need art more than we ever have, so I very much look forward to thousands of people across the world being able to follow Little Amal’s dramatic journey across Europe in search of her mother."
Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesman for UNHCR said the project would raise necessary awareness.
"Congratulations to Good Chance on organising The Walk. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to raise awareness about forced displacement, which is at record levels and rising. Using the arts and education, which transcend borders, is the perfect way to do that," he said.
“Our priority has been and remains to stay and deliver for refugees, internally displaced and stateless people. We will all be stronger and more effective in responding when we pull together, within societies and across frontiers."