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'Homes: A Refugee Story'

A world premiere by Winnie Yeung and Haysam Kadri at London Ontario's Grand Theatre

Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Nabil Traboulsi

Joe Szekeres

The right actor is needed to tell ‘Homes: A Refugee Story’ with truth, honesty and dignity. That choice was made with Nabil Traboulsi. His performance is the very reason to see this at times frightening, and alarming, but very hopeful play that humanizes and puts a face to war and political conflict
This world-premiere script by Winnie Yeung and Haysam Kadri is based on the novel by Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung. It tells the story of the Al Rabeeah family and their journey to finding a place to call home. The family travels from Iraq to Syria and on to Canada, and the city of Edmonton.

We get a glimpse of what life was like for the young Abu Bakr. He likes to play video games with his friends. He’s a soccer fan. He learns how to bake bread in his father’s shop. When the first car bombing takes place, Abu Bakr’s life collapses around him and will never be the same again. But that doesn’t mean that life cannot go on because it does for the young man and his family.

The production takes place in the intimate Auburn auditorium downstairs at London’s Grand Theatre. Corwin Ferguson’s set design is quite simple – a desk and chair and a bureau which are easily moved around. Props are found in the top desk drawer. Jordan Lloyd Watkins’ sound design grandly heightens the tension of life in Iraq and Syria. Siobhan Sleath tautly focuses her lighting design at many marks on the stage. The actor hits it exactly at the necessary moment or just naturally walks into the space when required.

Ferguson is also credited as the Projection Designer. His work is STUNNING as the designs finely underscore many of the dramatic highlights. Great attention has been paid to the minute details of the drawings and the use of colours.

Winnie Yeung and Haysam Kadri’s script nicely establishes a solid contrast between two polar extremes. There is a search for wanting to find a place to call home where one feels safe, at rest and at ease. On the other hand, there is the gritty reminder of the war-torn home from where Abu Bakr came. One moment where these two extremes clash wrenched at the heart.

When Abu Bakr is in Canada, he tries texting his friends overseas and receives no response. A few days go by and still no response. At one point, he sadly states that he wants to go home. A language struggle at school and no communication with his pals overseas make him wistfully and longingly want to go home to where he feels he belongs even if there is war.

The one slight quibble I did have with the script was in the final moments of the play when Abu Bakr finally states what it means to be home. This definition is placed on the projection screen behind. It’s another visually striking moment from my seat.

The quibble – there’s no sense of closure at the end. There is dead silence for a few seconds and the actor looked momentarily uncomfortable. The lights went down. They came back up and the actor stands there uncomfortable for a few seconds. He then starts his curtain call and the audience applauds. Can this ending be looked at again? There should be no hesitation the play has concluded.

Haysam Kadri’s compassionate direction remains very real. In his Director’s Note, he wrote how he considered the novel a page-turner and could not put it down because he felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for this extraordinary account. Kadri subtly yet beautifully captured this humane care for the subject material on stage as well. There is a reasoned sense of purpose in every move made during the performance, and I too felt as if I wanted to learn as much about this young man, where he came from and what his life might be like going forward.

Nabil Traboulsi’s performance as the young Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah is the highlight of the production. He remains a compelling storyteller throughout the eighty minutes. Traboulsi delivered a flesh and blood credibly real person on the Auburn stage, and I was on every word he always uttered. There are some wonderfully comical bits to counter the dramatic tension. Abu Bakr uses Google Translate to communicate with the unseen students at the school.

Not once did Traboulsi ever veer into emotional histrionics as he allows the words of the monologue to speak for themselves. As a member of the audience, it was I who felt either the sting of the meaning of the word or the pang of context. This occurred where Traboulsi (as Abu Bakr) says goodbye to his unseen friends the night before he leaves for Canada. Masterfully handled. I felt as if I was there at that moment in that silent, uneasy goodbye friends sometimes have to share with each other.

Final Comment: I hope this production can tour the province for as many people as possible to see it. ‘Homes: A Refugee Story’ becomes a very real story of strife, conflict, leaving, entering and belonging.
The intimacy of the Auburn auditorium makes this play ‘a page-turner’ on the stage.

It closes on March 5.

Go see it.

Running Time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.
‘Homes: A Refugee Story’ runs until March 5 on the Auburn Stage of the Grand Theatre, 471 Richmond Street. For tickets, visit or call the Box Office at (519) 672-8800.

The Grand Theatre presents the world premiere of HOMES: A REFUGEE STORY
Written by Winnie Yeung & Haysam Kadri
Adapted from the book by Abu Kakr Al Rabeeah & Winnie Yeung

Directed by Haysam Kadri
Assistant Director: Alex Rizkallah
Projection/Set Designer: Corwin Ferguson
Costume Designer: Lisa Wright
Lighting Designer: Siobhan Sleath
Sound Designer: Jordan Lloyd Watkins
Stage Manager: Suzanne McArthur
Apprentice Stage Manager: Caitlin Mears

Performer: Nabil Traboulsi

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