Small Fish Big Cheese – Jim Johnson, Peshkar

As I write this I am preparing my final thoughts before day one of rehearsals for Sudha Bhuchar’s play ‘Small Fish Big Cheese’ which will feature actors from Tamasha’s developing artist programme and will be presented at the Unicorn Theatre for a week commencing the 10th of January.

My connection with her play came by chance following a conversation with the associate producer at Peshkar, the company of which I am artistic director and who are producing the work as part of our ongoing ‘FutureDesh’ digital arts and climate change programme.  The conversation stimulated a huge amount of enthusiasm in me, not least because it was written by a well respected artist but it was created in precisely the same way we create work at Peshkar, in terms of original user voice at the heart of the work and methodology.

FutureDesh the programme, came about as an idea about 2 and a half years ago which was concerned with the relationship young people in the UK have with the issue of global climate change and how it relates to themselves and those most fiercely exposed to the eye of the storm in Bangladesh where in some areas of the country, the land is quite literally falling into the sea.

Our interest in the big idea behind FutureDesh led us to travel to Bangladesh in early 2010 to meet young people, artists and stakeholders and to better understand the personal stories behind the issue and to communicate these in an artistic way that would have resonance and meaning for the constituency of young people that we aim to engage with our work, namely those young people from the hardest to reach backgrounds in terms of access to a cultural offer.

Advance to November 2010 and we are producing an interactive ‘digital theatre’ installation in a disused shop in Oldham Town Centre (where Peshkar is based and has done so much important work in the past twenty years).  In this space we engage with hundreds of local young people presenting them a range of imagery and technology aimed at arresting their awareness of this issue in order to create a original user voice for a production we are planning to take out into communities across the Pennine Lancs area of England.

The resulting research became ‘Nor Any Drop’ by Nick Ahad, himself a member of the Tamasha artist development network and told a story whose heart and soul reflected Nick’s own cultural background as well as those people we met on our trip.

FutureDesh, however, has always been bigger than one artist, or one piece of work and when Sudha’s ‘Small Fish Big Cheese’ was presented to me, I came to realise that what we had was, in many ways, the companion piece to “Nor Any Drop’ as it dealt very much with the same issues but with a very clear young British Bangladeshi voice, created in a school in Tower Hamlets with a class of young people.

As a theatre maker who also works as a singer songwriter, I am always attracted to work that has something of the polemic about it.  When I was writing the soundtrack to Nor Any Drop, I took my lead from a song I had written about my experience travelling to Bangladesh and that both me and the country turned 40 in 2011.  The song ‘1971’ became a statement about the people who, as they approach 40 are the real agents of change in the world, just as the young characters in Small Fish Big Cheese feel somehow helpless in their situation which is why they happen on this fantastic plan to write to Cameron demanding that the government do something.

This notion spoke to me in precisely the same way that all the great protest songs do and, as I always direct to the music in a piece and like my theatre work to stand like a tone poem, I viewed Small Fish Big Cheese in the same way that Dylan and Guthrie’s material works.  Similarly I think that the play has something of the Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl about it.  My song 1971 has the line “Where are all the protest songs” and whereas I feel that popular music has very much lost its way in terms of platforming the truly polemic these days, I feel that theatre still has this ability and artistic will. In my view Sudha does exactly this with Small Fish Big Cheese.

One of the most inspiring elements of the Small Fish Big Cheese script is that it deals with ‘the big idea’ and from that concept we have been able to develop a whole online multiplatform element that we hope will inspire discussion, creativity and further ideas to give the FutureDesh project further momentum and Small Fish Big Cheese a life beyond our run at the Unicorn.  If you’d like to register your interest, go online to www.wearepeshkar.com and complete the following sentence:

“THE WORLD CANNOT END UNTIL…”

Jim Johnson

Artistic Director – Peshkar

00:00:00:00:01 The World Cannont End Until... input text box

Small Fish Big Cheese by By Sudha Bhuchar Directed by Jim Johnson at the Unicorn Theatre

Small Fish, Big Cheese is playing at the Unicorn Theatre 10 – 14 January 2012. More info and Tickets

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