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Into the 'Hotspot': A play about refugees, capitalism and anthropology

Immigrants, refugees, hotspots, smugglers, police and border control – these are some of the most recurrent concepts that fill government narratives, the media, news. These concepts are also filled with stereotypes that mask the lived realities as well as the systemic conditions that lead to ‘invasions’ and exploitation. Theatre is a powerful way to challenge these and to share research with the public.

The Price of Water

With war come refugees, with refugees come the police, and with misery comes business: welcome to the Hotspot! Set in the transitional space of the refugee registration centre, two women remember their homes, feel the weight of the sea on their wet clothes, and prepare for the road ahead. Cultural experts, entrepreneurial guides, police, and market forces surround them. But does the road ahead lead to safety? At what price?

Based on original anthropological fieldwork during the so-called 'refugee crises', our militant ethnographic- performative collaboration strives to push through stereotypes of host/guest and good/bad refugee, entrepreneurship, and resilience.

The Price of Water is a collaborative theatrical play between Maria Kastrinou, Hannah Knoerk, and Johannes Birringer. Our purpose is to explore, performatively and conceptually, how spatial infrastructures like the Hotspot, policing and bureaucratic immigration processes, and traumatic events, such as escaping from war, can be meaningfully expressed, theorised and critiqued in anthropology and in theatre. The theatrical performance, based on Kastrinou’s anthropological and work in Syria over the past 15 years, and in Greece during the so-called refugee crisis (2015-16), allowed us to build on this field material, to ‘let it speak,’ but also to let us synergise our own artistic, performative and political faculties in order to produce an immersive collaborative dialogue with empirical ethnographic material.This is how the Hotspot Collective was born in 2022: to explore creative convergences between ethnographic writing and visual expression in theatre, dance, and film. A first international presentation took place in January 2023 at the Rice University Research Seminar series, while parts of this work have been presented at anthropology departments in Brunel University and at the Aegean University in Greece.

The Price of Water premiered on March 30th, 2023 at the Artaud Performance Centre at Brunel University London.

Cast and Crew

  • Written & created by Maria Kastrinou, Hannah Knoerk and Johannes Birringer
  • Performed by Rhona Jack, Maria Kastrinou, Hannah Knoerk, Malek Rasamny, and Johannes Birringer
  • Money, written and performed by Benjamin Zephaniah
  • Design and media direction by Johannes Birringer
  • Additional films by Malek Rasamny & Matt Peterson; and Amel Alkazout and Khaled Abdulwahed
  • Co-design/art direction by Michèle Danjoux
  • Music/sound by Kurt Weill, Alan Sondheim, Rammstein
  • Lighting & technical supervision by Graeme Shaw
  • Lighting and software operation by Sofya Zinovyeva
Close-up of a woman


We have discovered that putting anthropology together with art on a theatre stage is an incredibly powerful way to communicate research, share experiences, and to engage with current political debates. As such, this project hopes to develop and reach a broader public, be shown again at other venues and be translated into other languages, and provide a critical laboratory for the discussion of social life and politics.

Some audience feedback:

'Your play has bridged the gap between anthropology as a stale, sometimes seen as dusty and colonial discipline and a modern world. I humbly believe that such a lens (theatre) can act as a conduit between media coverage and real actions of change. Thank you for the invitation and I hope that you are able to broaden the audience.'

'It was fast paced, concise, but shocking. It reveals the situation, events and agents involved.'

'A very moving piece. The visual of the clothing line was very effective. The tedious squeezing of the water to me felt it represented the long journey the refugees go on. To survive the water and to almost be left hanging -- the phrase hung out to dry. I may not understand 100% but it made me think and that is good art!'

'I was in awe of what you all pulled together in such a short space of time, but also, the knowledge and work you’ve put in over the past few years was evident in every scene and it was clear this is a subject which you find important. I was particularly drawn to the auction scene and the installation, which was left, all of which felt painfully harrowing, but also not out of the realms of possibility.'


  • Kastrinou, Maria and Knoerk, Hannah. (submitted) ‘To the future guests of Lesvos: Hospitality among Syrian refugees in Greece’.
  • Neocleous, Mark and Kastrinou, Maria. 2016 'The EU hotspot: Police war against the migrant', Radical Philosophy 200.
  • Kastrinou, Maria. 2016. Power Sect and State in Syria: The politics of marriage and identity amongst the Druze. London: I.B. Tauris.
  • Biringer, Johannes. 2023. ’Somatechnical Nature/Virtual River,’ Proceedings ISEA 2022, Barcelona, pp. 863-866.
  • Birringer, Johannes. 2022. ‘Interaction and Extended Somatechnics,’ in Bartley, Sean and Lewis, William. W. (eds), Experiential Theatres: Praxis-Based Approaches to Training 21st Century Theatre Artists, chapter 24, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 212-222.
  • Birringer, Johannes. 2022. ‘Somatechnics and Difference,’ Teatro: Revista de Estudios Culturales/Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 34:1.
  • Birringer, Johannes. 2022. ‘The Cry of the Ear,’ Critical Stages/Scènes Critiques 25,
  • Birringer, Johannes. 2022. “Wearable Technology for the Performing Arts,” with Michèle Danjoux, in Bryson, David and McCann, Jane (eds), Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology, Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 529-571.
  • Birringer, Johannes. 2022. Kinetic Atmospheres: Performance and Immersion. Abingdon: Routledge.

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Maria Kastrinou
Dr Maria Kastrinou - Maria Kastrinou is a social anthropologist with fieldwork experience in South-Eastern Mediterranean, specifically in Syria, Greece, Lebanon and in the Israeli-Occupied Golan Heights. Her research critically interrogates the politics of religion, sect, state and statelessness, the political and cultural lives of refugees, and the political economy of conflict and resistance. Her monograph Power, Sect and State in Syria (I.B. Tauris 2016) is the first ethnography of the Druze minority in Syria, and one of only a handful of anthropological works about Syria. She has been engaged with projects on sectarianism, statelessness and refugees in the Middle East and she is currently working on the Druze Heritage Foundation funded research project ‘Lives across divides: Ethnographic stories from the Golan Heights.’ Experimenting between anthropology and theatre, together with Hannah Knoerk and Johannes Birringer, they formed the Hotspot Collective and created, produced and performed ‘The Price of Water’ – a political play about refugees, capitalism and the Hotspot critically engaging with Kastrinou's  ethnographic work in Greece and the Middle East.

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 09/01/2024