Decolonising History: A Student’s Perspective

Decolonising History, a Tamasha Digital project for SOAS, is a thrilling collection of audio dramas created to analyse the concept and viability of decolonisation, as well as SOAS’ history.
Through its efforts to decolonise its curriculum, as well as by contributing key voices in debates regarding the subject, SOAS has led the charge for decolonisation for a long time. However, this is also due to its past as a training college for officers of the British Empire – its own contribution towards colonialism. This series of plays challenges SOAS to look at its own past, so that it can look to the future. One student involved with Decolonising History is Indira Varma, who has just graduated with a BA in History and South Asian Studies. Here’s her experience of working with Tamasha on this project, as well as her time at SOAS.

Indira Varma

The narrative through which the South Asian diaspora has engaged with their history has often been deeply skewed and biased.

Often, the understanding is that the Empire enriched and benefited South Asia in the long term – something which a lot of Indians today believe. My own father even believes that without the British and their infrastructure, South Asian development would have been slowed by 100 years, even though there is significant proof to show that pre-colonial Indian legal and governing systems were much more diverse and advanced than their Western counterparts.

Media has also played an important role in this narrative; films like The Viceroy’s House and shows such as Indian Summer whitewash and glorify the history of the Empire to the general public, usually only providing one perspective on the matter and altering the stance many Brits take towards colonialism and the British Raj.

There is a lack of accountability and honesty in Britain’s mainstream representation of the Empire. This is why it is extremely important for the playwrights from Tamasha to bring historical debates outside of an academic setting – above all, to give an honest reflection on British rule. Being able to have engaging and insightful discussions with Satinder and Guleraana (Decolonising History writers Chohan and Mir) outside of a classroom setting was a very interesting way to gain new perspectives on South Asian history.

A desire to study a decolonised history is one of the main reasons why myself and so many other South Asians have chosen to study at an institution like SOAS. Honest about its own involvement in the histories of colonialism, SOAS has provided me with a multi-dimensional and intimate learning experience. Ranging from the variety of how history is taught to the perspectives from which history is seen, there is no other place that could have taught me about my own country in a more personal and honest way.

Only through the decolonisation of history and acceptance of Britain’s role in many atrocities committed throughout the colonial era, can there be a deeper understanding of the multifaceted and diverse South Asian subcontinent.

Illustration by Erin Aniker

The five audio dramas will be playing to a live audience at ‘gathered listening’ events in theatres and cultural spaces across the UK. Full dates and information

 


Full cast and creative team for nationwide tour of I WANNA BE YOURS 2019

We are delighted to announce the full cast and creative team for the nation-wide tour of Zia Ahmed’s I WANNA BE YOURS 2019.

 

THE WRITER: ZIA AHMED

Zia Ahmed is from north-west London. He is part of the London Laureates, having been shortlisted for London’s Young Poet Laureate 2015/16. He is a former Roundhouse Poetry Slam winner and writer in residence at Paines Plough as part of Channel 4’s Playwright Scheme. He is one of the Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers’ Group 2018/19.

His writing and performance credits include C11 (Bush Theatre) and FRAGMENTS (Roundhouse). His poetry has featured on BBC Radio 4, DAZED and notable gigs include performing at Kate Tempest’s collection launches at the Old Vic, Hackney Arts Centre, Boiler Room x V&A, Latitude Festival and the ICA.

 

DIRECTION: ANNA HIMALI HOWARD

Anna Himali Howard is a director and theatremaker. She was Paines Plough’s Trainee Director in 2016 and is an alumnus of the Birmingham REP Foundry. She was recently the Staff Director on SMALL ISLAND at the National Theatre.

Her work as a Director includes:

A SMALL PLACE by Jamaica Kincaid (Gate Theatre); I WANNA BE YOURS by Zia Ahmed (Paines Plough/Tamasha/Rural Arts), ALBATROSS by Isley Lynn for NEW (Paines Plough/ RWCMD/Gate Theatre).

As a theatremaker, work includes:

JANE ANGER (Yard Theatre Live Drafts), MAHABHARAT/A by Anna Himali Howard and Zarina Muhammad (Camden People’s Theatre), THE BEANFIELD by Breach Theatre (New Diorama/national tour 2016).

Anna was Associate Director on FLEABAG by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Drywrite/Soho Theatre international tour) and Assistant Director on OTHELLO, directed by Ellen McDougall (Shakespeare’s Globe) and IN THE NIGHT TIME (BEFORE THE SUN RISES) by Nina Segal, directed by Ben Kidd (Gate Theatre).

 

EMILY STOTT as ELLA

Emily trained at The Oxford School of Drama and is a founding member of the award-winning theatre company Wildcard (ELECTROLYTE, 17, AFTER PARTY)

Theatre credits include: IF NOT NOW, WHEN? (Dorfman, National Theatre); THE COMEDY ABOUT A BANK ROBBERY (Mischief Theatre/Criterion Theatre); GIFTED (Pleasance); THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (Watermill Theatre); GLITTER PUNCH (VAULT Festival); THE KITCHEN SINK (Oldham Coliseum); INSIDE PUSSY RIOT (Les Enfants Terribles/Saatchi Gallery); PANCAKE DAY (The Bunker); EARLY DOORS (Not Too Tame/UK tour); THE SELFISH GIANT (Arcola Theatre).

TV credits include: VERA (ITV).

 

RAGEVAN VASAN as HASEEB

Television credits include: SAVE ME, FORTITUDE (Sky Atlantic); THE STATE (Channel 4); CUFFS, DOCTORS (BBC).

Film credits include: DUMBO (Disney); DAPHNE (The Bureau Film Company); WALK LIKE A PANTHER (FOX Searchlight); THE LAST WITNESS (Film Polska Productions).

Stage credits include: THE VILLAGE (Theatre Royal Stratford East); HURLING RUBBLE AT THE SUN/MOON (Park Theatre); LOVE FOR LOVE, QUEEN ANNE (Royal Shakespeare Company).

 

RACHAEL MERRY as RACHAEL

Rachael is an actor and BSL/English interpreter who is delighted to be working with Paines Plough this autumn for I WANNA BE YOURS

A member and associate artist of the DH Ensemble, she is a previous resident artist with GLYPT (Donut Worry R&D) and most recently can be seen as Ellie in DeafFest UK award winning short film AVA (Grint & Ash Collaboration).

Other credits include: Librarian in ALMOST (BSLBT/Flashing Lights Media); Evil Queen in MIRROR MIRROR (Red Earth Theatre UK Tours); Shiny in SMALL WORLD (BSLBT/Mutt & Jeff Pictures); Mrs Yellow in MR RED AND MRS YELLOW (Handprint Theatre). Rachael holds a first class degree in Theatre Arts, Education & Deaf Studies from The University of Reading and recently completed her role coordinating the youth programme for Deafinitely Theatre Company.

 

THE CREATIVE TEAM:

COMPANY STAGE MANAGER: ALICE LONGSON

Studying at Salford University, Alice gained a degree in Media Performance but was always drawn to the theatre.

Post university she headed into the Manchester Fringe scene working in various stage management roles on shows including THE TRIAL (People Zoo Productions); MOTH (Ransack Productions) and HAIR THE MUSICAL (Aria Entertainment).

With a passion for driving vans Alice went on to touring, working with Theatre Hullabaloo sharing THE BEAR AND BUTTERFLY with the UK in 2016/17.

During her time working the Manchester fringe Alice grew close connections with Hope Mill Theatre and following her tour went on to become the Technical Manager of the venue. She also supported their in-house musicals and Production Manager. She found a new passion for set building and power tools.

Onto ventures new, Alice is super excited to be hitting the road with I WANNA BE YOURS and is very proud to be part of the Paines Plough team on this project.

 

DESIGN: MYDD PHARO

Mydd is an award-winning set and costume designer, director and visual dramaturg working in theatre, live art and installation. He trained in Theatre Design at Wimbledon School of Art and Fine Art (Installation) at Falmouth College of Art.

Selected work includes:

WOLF’S CHILD (WildWorks/NNF); THE BODY (Barbican); THE PASSION (WildWorks/NTW); PARTY SKILLS FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (NNF); DREAM CITY – The Tunis Biennale of Art in Public Spaces, NABLUS: CITY OF STORIES, ONCE UPON A CASTLE – Kasteel Van Gaasbeek, THE ENCHANTED PALACE (WildWorks); ARK-IVE (National Theatre).

He is founding member, production designer and visual dramaturg for NPO company WildWorks an international site-specific theatre company specialising in large-scale outdoor promenade performances in unusual locations.

He has also designed works for Kneehigh Theatre, Punchdrunk, 14-18NOW, Royal College of Music, NYT, BAC, The Eden Project and The British Council.

 

LIGHTING: MARTHA GODFREY

Martha Godfrey is a lighting designer based in London.

Recent work includes: WHITE and GREY by Koko Brown (Ovalhouse Theatre/UK tour); PINK LEMONADE and SINCE U BEEN GONE (Queer House Productions); FUCK YOU PAY ME (The Bunker); BURY THE DEAD (Finborough Theatre); HEAR ME HOWL (Old Red Lion Theatre); PECS: THE 80S SHOW (Soho Theatre).

 

COMPOSITION & SOUND: ANNA CLOCK

Anna Clock is a composer, sound designer and cellist working across theatre, film, radio and installation.

Recent projects include: PLAYING UP and EPIC STAGES (National Youth Theatre); ARMADILLO (The Yard Theatre); FIGHTER (Stratford Circus Arts Centre); LOOKING FORWARD (Battersea Arts Centre); SOFT ANIMALS (Soho); THE BUTTERFLY LION (Barn Theatre); FATTY FAT FAT (Roundhouse/Edinburgh Festival) WORK BITCH, MISS FORTUNATE, ADMIN (VAULT Festival); TWELFTH NIGHT (Southwark Playhouse); POMONA; PUNK ROCK (New Diorama); BURY THE DEAD (Finborough Theatre); FABRIC (Soho/community spaces tour); KATIE JOHNSTONE, IN THE NIGHT TIME, [BLANK] (Orange Tree Theatre); OVEREXPOSED (V&A Museum); UNCENSORED (Theatre Royal Haymarket); SONGLINES (Edinburgh Festival/HighTide Festival/regional tour); FINDING FASSBENDER (VAULT Festival/Edinburgh Festival/HighTide Festival).

In 2018 Anna was artist in residence at SPINE Festival Borough of Harrow and Sirius Arts Centre.

Anna studied Music Composition and English Literature at Trinity College Dublin, Cello performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and holds an MA in Advanced Theatre Practice from Central School of Speech and Drama. They also have extensive experience as a workshop facilitator and educator, and have run workshops in schools, youth centres and community centres. They have also worked as guest lecturer and guest sound designer for third level institutions including University of Manchester, Mountview Academy, Arts Ed and Fourth Monkey.

 

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: JANISE SADIK

Janisè Sadik is an emerging theatremaker and director. She is Paines Plough’s Trainee Director for 2019, was a part of the Young Vic Directors program, and completed the Boris Karloff Trainee Assistant Director Program in 2017. She has been a co-workshop leader at Park Theatre leading the Creative Learning Programme since 2015 directing the end of term showcase.  She has facilitated in various creative buildings such as Hoxton Hall, Lyric Hammersmith, Ovalhouse and Wimbledon College of Arts. In 2018, she set up a Youth Theatre company at We Are Spotlight working with young actors that don’t have access to training. She has worked internationally in rural parts of South India to run creative theatre projects with young children to empower and build their confidence.  She enjoys work that is experimental, devised and brings new writing to life.

Theatre credits as director include: MILK & OREOS, winner of the Pandora Award 2015, co-written by Janisè Sadik & Seraphina Beh (Melanin Box Festival); BREAKING THE INTERNET (Ovalhouse Summer School 2017); BLURRED LINES (Etcetera Theatre); US by Priscilla Lafayette Kwabi (Camden People’s Theatre); HYDRAULIC by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu (Wimbledon College of Arts).

Assistant director credits include: ROUNDABOUT Season 2019: DAUGHTERHOOD by Charley Miles, ON THE OTHER HAND, WE’RE HAPPY by Daf James and DEXTER AND WINTER’S DETECTIVE AGENCY by Nathan Bryon (Paines Plough/Theatr Clwyd).

Film credits as director include: SHE by Andrè James.

 

MOVEMENT: JENNIFER JACKSON

Jennifer trained at East 15 and is a movement director and actor.

Movement Direction credits include: AMSTERDAM (ATC/Orange Tree/ Theatre Royal Plymouth); POPS (Jake Orr Productions); THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART (New Vic Theatre); BE MY BABY, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (Leeds Playhouse); THE TRICK (Loose Tongue/Bush/High Tide); PHILOXENIA (Bush); MOUNTAINTOP UK TOUR (Desara Productions Ltd); DEATH OF A SALESMAN, QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE, OUR TOWN (Royal Exchange); PARLIAMENT SQUARE (Bush/Royal Exchange); MAYFLY, OUT OF WATER (Orange Tree Theatre); BRIGHTON ROCK (Pilot Theatre/The Lowry); ROUNDABOUT Season 2017: BLACK MOUNTAIN, HOW TO BE A KID, OUT OF LOVE (Paines Plough/Theatr Clwyd/Orange Tree Theatre); ROUNDABOUT Season 2018: ISLAND TOWN, STICKS AND STONES, HOW TO SPOT AN ALIEN (Paines Plough/Theatr Clwyd); THE MOUNTAINTOP (Young Vic); DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Royal & Derngate); THE UGLY ONE (The Park); WHY THE WHALES CAME (Southbank Centre); STONE FACE (Finborough); DEBRIS (Southwark Playhouse/Openworks Theatre); MACBETH (Passion in Practice/Sam Wanamaker Playhouse); SILENT PLANET (Finborough); PERICLES (Berwaldhallen); THE FUTURE (The Yard/Company Three); OTHER-PLEASE SPECIFY, ATOMS (Company Three); TAKEOVER 2017 (Kiln Theatre).

Assistant Movement Director credits include: ROUNDABOUT Season 2014: LUNGS, THE INITIATE, MY TEACHER’S A TROLL (Paines Plough/Sheffield Theatres).

 

I WANNA BE YOURS will tour as follows:

 

6 – 19 October: The Albany Canada Water Hub, Canada Water

21 October: Studio 3 Arts, Barking

22 October: Luton Culture, Luton

24 October: Rosehill Theatre, Whitehaven

25 October: Unity Theatre, Liverpool

28 October: Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis

29 October: Ventnor Exchange, Ventnor

30 October – The Old Market, Brighton

31 October – South Hill Park, Bracknell

01 November: Trestle Arts Centre, St Albans

02 November: The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre, Havant

04 November: The Key Theatre, Peterborough

05 November: The Marlowe, Canterbury

06 November: Phoenix Theatre and Arts Centre, Bordon

07 November: Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

08 November: Electric Theatre, Guildford

11 November: Octagon Theatre, Bolton

12 November: Middlesbrough Theatre, Middlesbrough

13 November: The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury

14 November: Artrix, Bromsgrove

15 November: Derby Theatre, Derby

16 November: East Riding Theatre, Beverley

19 November: CAST, Doncaster

20 November: Norden Farm, Maidenhead

21 November: The Garage, Norwich

22 November: Lincoln Performing Arts Centre, Lincoln

23 November: The Edge, Manchester

26 November: Preston Continental

27 November: Arts Centre Washington

28 November: Selby Town Hall, Selby

29 November: Square Chapel, Halifax

30 November: The Maltings, Berwick-upon-Tweed


“Both fascinated and alarmed by Britain’s collective historical amnesia, I had to be involved in a project that sought to ‘decolonise history’.”

Journalist turned playwright and writer of Tamasha’s Made in India (2017), Satinder Chohan was one of five playwrights who took up residence in the History department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
Satinder’s audio drama, Scar Tissue, is inspired by what she found, having attended classes and engaged with the students and teachers. Here, Satinder shares the experiences of her ten-day SOAS residency.  

Playwright, Satinder Chohan

Back in the ancient period of my University of London student days, I regularly used to retreat to Senate House to study, then occasionally hang out at SOAS, whilst sneaking in some Frantz Fanon, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Paul Gilroy as I swotted up on the Western literary canon as an English Lit student. Decades and hazy student memories later, I returned as a writer for Decolonising History, a project for SOAS by Tamasha Digital.

Five writers from diverse backgrounds were in residence at SOAS, sitting in on BA history classes of their choosing for ten days over two months to inspire ideas for five short audio dramas, seeking to interrogate the teaching of history in British schools and universities and to write untold stories from a non Western perspective.

Even in those ancient student days (and still now), I would get into heated arguments about Britishness and British history, for not supporting the English at football or cricket, for recoiling from the loaded Union Jack and Rule Britannia.

I have never felt comfortable being British in a Britain that frequently whitewashes the darker aspects of its imperial history.

Through my family and immigrant community, I learnt about the contributions of my grandfather and his generation to the British war effort, my immigrant parents’ contributions to the rebuilding of post-war Britain, about Partition and the horrors of profiteering British exploits throughout its Empire, but rarely saw these taught at school or discussed and even acknowledged in the nation at large. Both fascinated and alarmed by Britain’s collective historical amnesia, I had to be involved in a project that sought to ‘decolonise history’.

At SOAS, I took classes and lectures around Partition, including ‘Introduction to the History of South Asia’, ‘Histories of Partition: India and Pakistan 1947’ and ‘Colonialism and Nationalism’. Years ago, I read Urvashi Butalia’s The Other Side of Silence, a ground-breaking, visceral work that uses oral histories to tell the untold stories of Partition survivors, the smaller, invisible players whose experiences were largely silenced in the grander political game-playing history of Partition. Sitting in on brilliant lecturer Eleanor Newbigin’s classes, I began building on that book, learning about the subcontinental holocaust of Partition in more detail, through both its big and small players.

Rural Sikhs in a long oxcart train headed towards India. 1947. Margaret Bourke-White. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oxcart-train1947.jpg

As a 21st century university student, I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material available through Moodle! No more just taking notes with pen and paper, lugging piles of library books home. Now, instantly downloadable articles and books, video lectures, class group chats, access to archives to decolonise history at one’s fingertips. I chatted with Eleanor outside class too about Partition, Empire and Britain’s imperial legacy. I spoke to mostly female SOAS students on those courses about history as a subject and its importance and role in their own lives. Impressive and inspiring, all were balancing their studies with a desire to take their historical knowledge and work into the world, to help other women, whether pushing for more female-conscious legislation, working with abused women in their local communities, travelling to Palestine or making ethnographic films focusing on women in Pakistan.

Even though I have always been hugely political, I wasn’t very politically active at college, so it was so affirming to see such a high level of political awareness among almost all the students I encountered. Through the copious reading and stimulating conversations, I began to think about an idea and wanted to write a Partition drama from a contemporary female student perspective. Listening to Partition archives, I also thought about the urgent need to record the memories of the last of the Partition survivors, silenced too long by colonial history. I felt the drama should involve a recently deceased grandmother who leaves behind oral recordings of her life including the revelation of a terrible Partition secret. Oral recordings seemed apt for an aural medium!

As I wrote Scar Tissue, I thought a lot about history and memory (its fragility and reliability) – about the experiences we choose to remember and those we choose to bury, in both family and nation.

Colonised narratives exist and persist in families and a wider world, so that the coloniser’s dominant view overrides other ones. When colonisers bury crimes of the past, historical amnesia develops. So I wanted the audio drama to explore how one family member wants to instigate small ‘decolonising’ changes against the inherited, harmful, forgotten narratives of the past. Yet conflict arises when the rest of the family want to maintain a prevailing colonial narrative that upholds the status quo. While some want to confront and decolonise history to heal an often darker past, reveal other truths and bring a new balance to an inequitable order, others want to deny, cover up, ignore or fabricate new narratives about past events. Crimes and wrongdoings have happened within families and nations and while we can’t change them, we don’t have to turn away from ugly, violent history out of ignorance, shame, guilt or denial. Perhaps we should try to confront those events as boldly and truthfully as possible to heal the past and learn something for the future, rather than repeat colonial narratives and crimes ad nauseam, to only benefit and hear the voices of the few.

Two Muslim men (in a rural refugee train headed towards Pakistan) carrying an old woman in a makeshift Doli or palanquin. 1947. Margaret Bourke-White. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Two-men-carrying-woman1947.jpg

Decolonising History has been a vital, exciting project to be involved in, using audio drama and academia to provoke greater debate and awareness around the need for a more inclusive culturally diverse history in academic circles and public discourse. In a globally connected age, in which students are challenging Western-centric and Eurocentric world views and structures, curriculums and canons, pulling down colonial statues and relics, SOAS and Tamasha are at the very heart of a project that questions centuries long Western colonial dominance in and beyond ivory towers. Our project is a tiny contribution to all this – an attempt at a more honest, grown-up debate, so that we can learn more about who we all are and how we relate to one another, to our past and our future in 21st century Britain. This is especially so in a Brexit Britain, overshadowed by Britain’s ‘glorious’ past in an amnesiac nation that has never dealt with its loss of empire – raising pressing questions for us all about how history should live today.

Illustration by Erin Aniker

Satinder’s audio drama, Scar Tissue, is premiering at SOAS on 8 October. Book your tickets to the gathered listening event and for a chance to speak to Satinder and the four other writers. Part of Decolonising History – a Tamasha Digital Project for SOAS.

Best of British: new theatre in the age of Brexit

While 2019 might be the year of political uncertainty, one thing is for sure: Tamasha is firing on all cylinders. Our Artistic Director looks ahead to what’s in store for the company, if not the country…

2019 might have started with crisis and uncertainty at the political level, but it is a bumper year for Tamasha. It’s an odd feeling for the country to be in such dire straits while our company is booming, but if you can peel your eyes away from the political coverage, here is a good news story for a change.

Tamasha is small, we usually only produce one show per year. While we tour that show as far and wide as we can, usually for around 3 months, it’s still one show. Our current standstill funding settlement with Arts Council England, a cut in real terms, prevents us producing any more than this.

The scale of our producing arm is in contrast to our talent development arm, Tamasha Developing Artists (TDA), currently a thriving community of 2,000 (and counting) emerging artists from all walks of life. One of the perennial conundrums at Tamasha is how to cater for so many at the starts or midway points of their careers, all hungry for opportunities, when the professional employment on our own shows is necessarily limited by the scale and frequency of what we can afford to produce in any given year.

I try to be honest with our TDA artists about this. For example, at the start of each annual cohort of the Tamasha Playwrights group I am upfront about this imbalance, and that the chance of us being able to produce any one of their scripts is necessarily low. Not impossible – it does happen – but we try to manage their expectations.

Because of this, part of our training of new theatre artists includes the business of theatre, and especially how to raise their own funds to put themselves in the creative driving seat, rather than waiting for opportunities to be bestowed upon them from larger organisations. It’s an attempt to turn on its head the traditional commissioning model of theatre producing, which renders artists essentially passive. Tamasha asks instead: how can we support you to support yourselves?

Nevertheless, I’ve had an ambition for Tamasha to produce more ever since I was appointed five years ago. This is easier said than done on standstill funding, with touring costs increasing, and a climate of risk aversion around new plays. However, somehow, this year, we are producing not one but seven new shows. Seven! Plus a raft of innovative online projects via new strand Tamasha Digital. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. How have we done this?

Three ways: smart partnerships, strategic funding and by supporting independent artists. It’s taken several years for this detailed, patient work behind the scenes to really pay off, but this year it finally will.

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Nicholas Khan as Raf and Karan Gill as Shazad in Approaching Empty. Photo by Helen Murray.

Last month, we opened our latest national tour, Approaching Empty by Ishy Din, a smart, funny and ultimately tragic story about two old friends running a minicab firm, but which doubles as a subtle allegory for our times, especially the UK’s ‘left behind’ former industrial heartlands which were so gutted by Thatcherism in the 1980s. Ishy’s thesis is that this is arguably where the Brexit vote has its roots. The play has been delighting London audiences at the newly-refurbished Kiln Theatre, ahead of a three–week ‘homecoming’ run at Live Theatre Newcastle, and a national tour until mid-April. While we’ve loved the response down here, we can’t wait to get on a train and see how the play is received by northern audiences, who in a way it is written for. Ishy is firmly establishing himself as the voice of his community, and is maturing into a seriously sophisticated writer of national importance.

Ordinarily, we’d be looking ahead to the end of this tour in April and starting pre-production for 2020’s show….but 2019 is no ordinary year. There are six other shows before the year is out!

Four of them are part of IGNITE, an Associate Producer training programme funded by the Arts Council’s Sustained Theatre strategic fund, which Tamasha spearheaded, in partnership with 7 regional theatres (Belgrade, Derby, Dukes, Mercury, Luton Hat Factory, Contact and Rich Mix), aimed at diversifying the offstage workforce of British theatre. This fund was commendably an open brief to submit initiatives, shaped and led by the smaller, diverse companies who do so much behind the scenes to nurture and launch new artists of colour, and the creative teams which support their visions.

IGNITE was conceived on the back of much discussion as a company. We concluded that if we’re serious about diversifying what ends up on the nation’s stages, then as a sector we need to put more effort into two main areas: playwrights and producers. Playwrights, because they decide whose lives are worth putting on stage in the first place. And producers make it happen.

There are various initiatives for playwrights, not least our own Tamasha Playwrights group, graduates of which have gone onto great things, including most recently accounting for two of the three writers, Rabiah Hussain and Ross Willis, just announced as the inaugural recipients of a £10,000 Royal Court Theatre / Kudos TV residency. And this year, we’re grateful to receive support from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and Garfield Weston Foundation, which means we’re able to provide regional bursaries for Tamasha Playwrights as well.

For producers there is virtually nothing. To some extent this is understandable; it’s hard to teach producing as theory. Unlike playwriting, unless you have some actual money to spend you can’t really do it. The traditional way to become a producer is to borrow from the Bank of Mum and Dad to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. That necessarily imposes a filter.

Our pitch to the Arts Council’s Sustained fund was that Tamasha is going to take the place of those rich parents and raise the funds for a new generation without those means. We reached out to a consortium of seven venue partners, and together raised enough for four full-time producers to be embedded at four regional venues, with production funds attached.

Fast forward three years and a critical mass of new work around the country is the thrilling result, all hitting our stages in 2019.

At the Dukes Theatre Lancaster, Anna Nguyen is producing the world premiere of Glory by Nick Ahad – a seriously funny and timely new play set in the world of old school wrestling which, while no longer on prime time TV is, contrary to popular belief, alive and well and a thriving subculture in numerous parts of the country, especially the north-west. Set in a scruffy gym which has seen better days, Glory brings together four men at the end of the line who find solace and a newfound identity in a sport which traditionally overlooked and at worst actively caricatured non-white performers.

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Promo shot of Glory

Like Approaching Empty, Glory’s gritty world serves as a subtle state-of-the-nation allegory, though unlike Ishy Din, Nick Ahad finds reasons to be optimistic in his vision of Britain sloughing off the baggage of a racialized past to pass on the baton to a vibrant new generation who will make the sport – and by implication, the nation – their own. Catch it 21 February to 2 March at the Dukes, then on its own national tour to 13 April. (The Glory team might even be able to wave at the Approaching Empty team as they pass each other on the motorway….)

At Belgrade Coventry, longstanding collaborators of Tamasha, Lian Wilkinson has been leading on Under The Umbrella by Amy Ng, another new play, this time looking east to China, and closer to home to the Chinese student population, who are a large presence in Coventry. Under The Umbrella puts the spotlight on the phenomenon of ‘marriage markets’ – where parents of still-single children in their late 20s browse each other’s offspring’s CVs in order to find a marriage match before time runs out on a ‘leftover’ son or daughter. Set in Coventry and Guangzhou, this compelling new play by the acclaimed writer of Acceptance at Hampstead Theatre explores tradition, trauma and triumph in the art of finding love. Catch it from 2-16 March at the Belgrade before touring to 30 March.

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Promo shot of Under the Umbrella

At Derby Theatre, IGNITE producer Rafia Hussain has led on a raft of writer development initiatives while deepening the venue’s relationship with one writer in particular, Atiha Sen Gupta, with a timely revival of her 2009 debut What Fatima Did, giving the play its regional premiere. Fatima Merchant is feisty and strong-willed. At 17, she drinks, smokes and parties. On the eve of her 18th birthday, without word or warning or explanation, she adopts the hijab. Suddenly, to her friends and family she is no longer the Fatima they thought they knew. What Fatima Did is a funny and thought-provoking exploration of attitudes to identity, freedom and multiculturalism in contemporary Britain. The play has lost none of its relevance ten years on, and it’s great to see a new play having a continued afterlife. Catch it from 27 Feb-2 March at Derby Theatre.

What Fatima Did image

Promo shot of What Fatima Did…

Finally, at Mercury Colchester, producer Dilek Latif has taken on a mid-scale show with commercial potential – a long overdue revival of the Fats Waller 1920s-set jazz musical Ain’t Misbehavin’. Join extraordinary performers on a journey through an amazing period of American musical history, the Harlem Renaissance – an era where musicians were free to experiment with new styles and joints were jumping with dancers, singers and instrumentalists jamming to a new beat known as swing. The Great Depression didn’t stop them then and neither will Brexit now… Catch this feelgood musical at the Mercury from 15-30 March followed by a London run at Southwark Playhouse 19 April-1 June.

AIN'T MISBEHAVIN Web

Promo shot of Ain’t Misbehavin’

But there’s more…

After a busy spring we go straight into an early summer tour of a show by one of the independent artists we support throughout the year. Nyla Levy is an actor and writer, who you might recognise from recent roles in Diary Of A Hounslow Girl or Child of the Divide. Her first play, Does My Bomb Look Big In This? draws its inspiration from the Bethnal Green schoolgirls who left for Syria to join ISIS in 2016. During a development phase last year which Tamasha supported, Nyla conducted extensive research with young people in Luton and Tower Hamlets, and interviews with numerous experts including Tasnime Akunjee, the lawyer who represented the Bethnal Green girls and their families. The result is a fast-paced, nuanced and surprisingly funny new play about the psychological impact of alienation from modern Britain, which renders some young Muslim girls especially vulnerable to online grooming. Does My Bomb Look Big In This? is a witty drama that exposes the fragmented nature of our society and how far we are from the myth of multicultural harmony. Tour dates are still being finalised but will include a rural touring week in north Yorkshire and a three-week run at Soho Theatre in early summer….

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Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Last up is a full production of a play we co-produced with Paines Plough last year in a stripped down R&D version, I Wanna Be Yours, the debut play by slam poet champion Zia Ahmed. After an ecstatic response from rural audiences last year, Zia has been putting the finishing touches to his quietly masterful two-hander about a Pakistani Londoner and a white girl from Yorkshire who fall in love and try to make things work against the odds. It’s one of the most subtle and sophisticated mappings of internal emotional worlds I’ve been involved with, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, with some gorgeous touches of magical realism from a thrilling new voice in British theatre. We can’t wait to show it off to a wider audience on Paines Plough’s small scale touring circuit in the autumn.

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I Wanna Be Yours

So that’s our plucky brood of seven – look out for them at a theatre near you.

But believe it or not, these are just our theatre productions. 2019 will also see the launch of Tamasha Digital, piloting a new strand of online-only work. Planned projects include a new theatre industry magazine show, Tell Dem, presented by rising star and founder of the Black Ticket Project Tobi Kyeremateng, featuring a panel of guests from across art forms discussing shows, news and trends within the UK theatre scene from the perspective of artists of colour.

We’re also piloting an experimental new audio walking tour, in which inner city communities are supported to give visitors to their area a personalised – and occasionally fantastical – walking tour experience to get them off the beaten track. First up is The Bengali Guide To Brick Lane in which we will revisit our old friends at Mulberry School and work with creative producer and former Tamasha Associate Company Afsana Begum to work up a trial episode. If we can crack the format, it could pave the way for other communities in other areas – The Pakistani Guide to Luton or The Punjabi Guide to Southall, anyone? After trialling it on our doorstep in London we could also start to look further afield to the places we tour.

As if this wasn’t enough, we’re also piloting a new viral video project via Whatsapp, testing out whether or not existing social media platforms can be harnessed to tell dramatic narratives.

We have five new audio dramas in development created by five Tamasha Playwrights graduates doing a residency in the History department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

There’s also a partnership with HighTide coming up, involving an exciting new project from actress Taj Atwal, and a schools project Re-Fuel in which young people perform their own short plays on top of the Approaching Empty set.

Finally, hot on the heels of the success of 2018’s Hear Me Now compilation with Oberon, we have a new publication from Methuen, Migration Plays, making available for the first time some new plays for young people developed in collaboration with our friends at the Migration Museum.

Plus of course there’s our usual year-round roster of masterclasses and scratch nights...

Why have we gone all out across all our platforms in this way? Partly, the right partners, funding pots and opportunities have come along at the right time. But there is more to it than this. Tamasha has always had an important function over and above just our own touring productions – we are also a stepping stone into the industry for new talent. The roll call of names who have had their first break via Tamasha is impressive and growing with every passing year – Parminder Nagra, Jimi Mistry, Ayub Khan-Din, Chris Bisson, Raza Jaffrey, Sunetra Sarkar, Krupa Pattani, Ishy Din, Pooja Ghai, Iman Qureshi, Ross Willis, Rabiah Hussain, Danusia Samal… the list goes on. Tamasha isn’t just a theatre company, it’s a pipeline for the whole theatre industry. Yes, we do a lot of training, but in our experience the best way to train artists is to employ them, and produce their work.

We can’t do this on our own of course, and we owe big shout outs to our valued collaborators across the UK, as well as the dedicated Tamasha office team who work so hard to deliver all this behind the scenes.

As national political events continue to cast a shadow, and with the future less predictable than ever, it’s only by working collaboratively in this way that, as a sector, we can continue to keep the door open for the next generation, and to make drama which truly reflects the society in which we live.

Whatever else 2019 holds, it will be a good year for Tamasha, and a good year for the next generation in British theatre. We hope that you can join us to celebrate these achievements, and the values which underpin them, whatever rocky times lie ahead.


Fin Kennedy, Artistic Director – Tamasha


“Approaching Empty is relevant because it’s about us, it’s about what our families went through and what impact this had on the younger generations.”

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Nicholas Prasad as Sully, Rina Fatania as Sameena and Kammy Darweish as Mansha in Approaching Empty. Photo by Helen Murray.

Talking about Thatcher in the North East is like saying Lord Voldemort’s name at Hogwarts… or it is in my grandad’s company. His family were all miners and he saw first-hand how she starved a community into submission, left men without purpose and flattened economies here in the North East. I knew instantly when I read Approaching Empty that I had to be part of the production; listening to Mansha – his politics, his dreams, his distain of Thatcher is like hearing my grandad talk. The great thing about Ishy’s writing, however, is that he isn’t one sided – this is not a play of pure Thatcher bashing. Mansha may echo a lot of peoples feelings of her, but Raf, his counterpart and boss, argues Thatcher was a great visionary who saw the mines for what they were – unprofitable and from the past, and he, like many others, flourished in Thatcher’s capitalist economy.

Approaching Empty puts a spotlight on the the steelworks in Middlesbrough – many North Easterners will have memories of Redcar Steelworks. In fact, only last year I was part of a film, Blood Steel, directed by Tim Goodill, which focussed on the impact and effect closing the steelworks had on Redcar’s community. (Unemployment in 2017 jumped by 16.2% after the steelworks had been closed, making Redcar one of the poorest constituencies in the UK). It’s a community that has been abused by big companies and ignored by the government, leaving it with a broken economy.

Ishy writes about a North Eastern working class community that struggled after Thatcher’s Britain, and gives their stories a platform on a national stage without it being a caricature. The truth in his writing and his voice is because Ishy is one of us – he’s writing about his North East not as an outsider looking in – and you can see that in the play. Too often we get a “wey aye man” as some stereotypical menial comedy role in a show, but Ishy writes nuanced and beautiful characters who are heartbreaking and real. And as Ishy says, the comedy within Approaching Empty comes from playing the truth of the situation, not from playing it for laughs.

Approaching Empty is relevant because it’s about us, it’s about what our families went through and what impact this had on the younger generations. Did our families succeed or were they broken by Thatcher’s politics? What is it like to be the new generation in those families? Can we still chase our dreams or are we hindered by the fears of what our parents and grandparents went through? This is even more prevalent with those, who like me, are in the arts. When I first said to my grandad I wanted to be an actor/director you’d have thought I’d said I’d like to be a mermaid. It talks of multiple generations and their political/ethical outlooks. As an audience we start to look at our own lives and ask ourselves what would we have done differently if our family and livelihoods were at stake? Are we any different from the supposed “bad guys”?. It’s as important a play now as it would have been in 2013, because we’re a country who is heavily divided by politics and scared of economic collapse but we can make good choices for the future.

In Approaching Empty we join Mansha and Raf on the 8th April 2013, the day Thatcher died, in Raf’s taxi office where business is failing. We voyeuristically watch as Mansha, Raf and their families slowly fall apart through their choices and consequences, when good men make cut throat decisions which don’t always play out the way they had hoped.

Catch Approaching Empty at Live Theatre, Newcastle now until 23rd February, before it heads off on a national tour. All dates and booking information.

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Maanuv Thiara as Tany in Approaching Empty. Photo by Helen Murray.


By guest editor, Heather Carroll – Approaching Empty Assistant Director and proud North Easterner ❤️


Hear Me Now: go forth and fight for better

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Photo credits:  Toyin Dawudu.

Thursday 1 November 2018 saw around 200 people come together to celebrate Hear Me Now: a three-year journey that has seen 34 writers work with 85 actors to produce brand new audition monologues for actors of colour, published by Oberon Books. The anthology was edited by Titilola Dawudu in partnership with Tamasha.

Our Artistic Director, Fin Kennedy, gave the audience an introduction on the night. We share that speech with you now… enjoy x

Five years ago I started a grass roots political campaign called In Battalions. It lobbied the government about the effects of cuts to the Arts Council on the development of new plays and playwrights. It all started as an article on my blog which went viral, documenting some daft remarks by the then Culture Minister Ed Vaizey when I met him. The whole thing snowballed into quite a movement within the theatre industry. The report generated numerous depressing statistics about reductions to funding levels and consequent new play commissions – with a particular effect on diverse writers and their stories. These numbers turned out to be quite important. Prior to my report they simply weren’t documented, which made it hard to argue the case at government level, as anecdotal evidence is not terribly compelling. The stats we generated with In Battalions were subsequently quoted by newspapers, at industry conferences, and used by other campaigners and lobbyists including the Arts Council themselves.

I thought of this today because I received an email, five years on, from a member of the Writers’ Guild Theatre Committee to say that she had used the In Battalions report and its statistics only this week in a meeting in Parliament. It is still relevant, and still being used.

Numbers matter. Being in print matters.

Look around you tonight – we have the numbers. And we are in print.

Looking back, I realise that what the In Battalions report did was to act as a lightning rod for an entire sector to express a grievance, and lobby for better. Crucially, it armed a resistance movement with the second best weapon any resistance movement can utilise – facts.

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Photo credits:  Toyin Dawudu.

The principle behind Hear Me Now is the same – if we playwrights can arm our actor colleagues with killer material in auditions, we might, just might, be able to catalyse change. The representations in this book will soon be making an appearance in auditions around the UK. These characters live and breathe and are about to come to life. Casting directors won’t be able to escape – we are coming at them, and asking them to do better.

We help you find a home.

Photo credits:  Toyin Dawudu.

The second best weapon is facts. So what’s the first? Stories. Nothing can move the human heart like a story.

I’m sometimes asked if I think theatre can change the world. I don’t think it can. But it can change people. And people can change the world.

Actors, these are your stories. Your ammunition. A gift from your playwright comrades.

Go forth and fight for better.

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Photo credits:  Toyin Dawudu.

Hear Me Now is a unique collection of over 80 original audition pieces written by and for actors of colour. Published by Oberon Books, the anthology has been commissioned by Tamasha and edited by Titi Dawudu, with a foreword by Noma Dumezweni.

Order Hear Me Now, using the discount code HearMeNow10 and get your copy for £10 instead of the usual RRP of £14.99.


From East End Tales to Mano’s: a community theatre success story

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Later this month, on Saturday 28 July, Rightful Place Theatre Company perform the world premiere of Mano’s by Guleraana Mir at Rich Mix. Performed by an all-female community cast of British Bangladeshi women from Tower Hamlets, the play is set in a female-run car mechanics in East London, and has been developed in collaboration with its cast since October last year.

I’ve seen the show and it’s great – smart, funny and subtly subversive – with its multi-generational cast having complete ownership of the story and production. I found its opening night quite moving; the project is particularly close to my heart because, for me at least, the show has roots stretching as far back as 2004. It represents the latest iteration of a long personal history, now embedded at Tamasha, of co-creating new plays with Bengali women and girls linked to Mulberry School for Girls on Commercial Road, E1. It’s a strand of work which it is no exaggeration to say made me the artist I am today, and has left a legacy of theatre-making in the heart of a particularly under-represented community. I’m proud that this work continues to be supported by Tamasha. It also makes for a particularly compelling case study in the power of applied drama in community settings.

Rightful Place is a theatre company based at Mulberry School for Girls with a remit to work with the school’s female alumni and other local women like the mothers of current students. Set up and run by Creative Producer Afsana Begum, herself a Mulberry alumna and employee, Rightful Place was a Tamasha associate company in 2016. Mano’s is their first Arts Council funded show – a big vote of confidence in this unique community company. It’s also testament to what can be achieved with long-term collaborations between professional theatre artists and the diverse communities on their doorstep, when that relationship is entered into as equal creative partners.

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It all started back in 2004 – I’d just had my debut professional production at Soho Theatre and was under commission at Half Moon Young People’s Theatre in Limehouse, developing my first play for teenagers. Half Moon have an immersive process to develop their writers, sending them into local schools to run separate projects with local young people, as a way of getting to know the venue’s target audience. I was sent into Mulberry to run a 10-week after school theatre club, in which I worked with a group of Year 10 girls to develop a series of short, lyrical ensemble plays inspired by local newspaper articles, which became East End Tales. My main play for Half Moon, Locked In, set in an East London pirate station, later performed in the school, and the Deputy Head Jill Tuffee, herself a drama teacher, spotted an opportunity. Mulberry was applying for specialist arts status, an initiative under the last Labour government to offer schools who excel in a certain subject area to apply for an uplift in funding for professionals from that field to work in the school part-time.

Mulberry is an exceptional place. Founded as Tower Hamlets Girls’ School in the 1960s, it has been a fixture of the local community for generations. For most of that time, it has achieved extraordinary academic results in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, regularly sending its girls to Oxford and Cambridge, and counting among its many alumni the current local MP Rushanara Ali. It’s no accident that Michelle Obama chose the school to launch her girls education charity on her last visit to the UK as First Lady.

Mulberry has achieved all this by putting a commitment to creative arts, and especially drama, at the heart of the curriculum. It isn’t selective, or a faith school or free school, but a state comprehensive whose student intake has tracked the changing face of East London, and is currently 96% Muslim students of Bangladeshi heritage. When I became their first Writer-in-Residence in 2006, the focus on creativity was undergoing a renewed vigour with a new Headteacher, Vanessa Ogden, working alongside the newly-promoted Jill Tuffee, ensuring a commitment to drama and professional arts collaborations from the Senior Leadership Team.

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My brief as Writer-in-Residence was twofold: firstly, to work alongside the school’s Drama and English teachers in timetabled classes to improve results by developing bespoke classes in devising, theatre criticism, textual analysis and to bring in other theatre professional such as actors, directors or other writers involved with shows the students had seen. And secondly, to run a range of extra-curricular projects to stretch and develop the school’s creative practice and raise its profile in this area.

This second objective was particularly open. An after-school Playwriting Club for students was an obvious first choice, but when a staff member stopped me while I was photocopying scripts to ask if I could run the same for teachers, I did that too. (It turns out that teachers make excellent playwrights.)

But the highest profile project came out of my desire to write something new for the students myself. In typical Mulberry fashion Jill Tuffee seized on the idea and suggested we take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. I costed it up and shortly afterwards a budget was approved – we were going to Edinburgh. That first show, Mehndi Night in 2007, became the first of six shows I wrote for the school, four of which premiered at Edinburgh. The process was fully collaborative, with weekly sessions starting in January and the play emerging over many months of workshops and discussions, with all students treated as creative equals in the process and bespoke parts for everyone who wanted to act.

In 2009 we won a Scotsman Fringe First award for our show The Unravelling, which really put our work on the map. The Scotsman, The Guardian and The Herald were particularly supportive. In 2010 we held our own festival at Southwark Playhouse and my publisher Nick Hern Books published my first four plays in an anthology, The Urban Girl’s Guide To Camping and other plays. A second anthology, The Domino Effect and other plays for teenagers, followed in 2015. Mulberry’s Fringe First plaque still sits in the school’s reception and is probably the proudest moment of my playwriting career. It had been a privilege to be welcomed into the Mulberry community and to give a voice to their young women, against the odds of anyone from their background featuring on Britain’s professional stages. (Incidentally, Mulberry are returning to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018 for the first time in four years with Cry God for England, Harry and St George! – a new show developed entirely independently of me – which is great!)

There was a wider sea change taking place locally too. When I first started at Mulberry, there was real anxiety about the community’s reaction to their young women performing publically, around which there can be cultural sensitivities. Fourteen years ago, hardly any parents came to see the school’s shows (we would always perform the Edinburgh show locally in the autumn term). But with each show we did, more and more parents turned out to support, year on year. The impact on their daughters was obvious – they’d start in January full of shyness and nerves, but come August could hold a sold-out auditorium in the palm of their hands as they totally owned the stage. This new-found confidence permeated every area of their lives. It was a joy to see.

There were wider personal effects too. In returning to school year after year I was able to keep track of students who had been to Edinburgh with us in previous years. They all said what a profound effect it had had, the confidence it had given them in life and work, and what a unique experience it had been for young people who had rarely left Tower Hamlets, and which they would remember for the rest of their lives, empowering them in job interviews and other challenging situations, irrespective of whether or not they went into an arts career. By now the parents were fully on board too, with a coach-load coming to Southwark Playhouse in 2010, to Soho Theatre in 2011, and some even making the trip to Edinburgh with us in 2014. But perhaps most excitingly, construction work had started on the school’s very own theatre on-site – a state-of-the-art 150-seat studio, ensuring the means of production were now fully within the community’s control (and which was where I saw Mano’s last month).

But back in 2010 things were not so rosy. One of my measures of success for what I had started at Mulberry was whether it had a life beyond my involvement. I had always been clear that ultimately I wanted the work to become locally-owned and led, for Mulberry Theatre Company to be able to self-represent, run fully by local Bengali women. Back then, that seemed like a pipe dream. A general election that year saw the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government come to power, and one of the first things they did was scrap the Specialist Schools scheme which paid for my salary. Mulberry and I had to become more creative about how we were going to work together.

It was around this time that Tamasha, under then-Artistic Directors Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith, were advertising for Associate Artists through the Tamasha Developing Artists (TDA) programme. When I rang up the office and asked what they wanted these Associate Artists to do, Tamasha rather brilliantly said “Suggest something”. So I suggested a pilot playwrights-in-schools training scheme, opening Mulberry up to a new generation of diverse emerging writers sourced via an open call to the TDA network. We were swamped with applications – it turns out playwrights are crying out to do this work. After an initial pilot phase, the project eventually became Schoolwrights, which for a while was Tamasha’s flagship education programme: TDA writers would co-create new short plays in Mulberry and four other schools, and stage these performances at Rich Mix and Soho Theatre.

Shortly afterwards, Kristine Landon-Smith stepped down, and before going, rang me up to invite me to apply for her job. No-one was more surprised than me when I actually got it – but my appointment opened up a whole new phase in the relationship between Mulberry School and the professional theatre industry. I wasn’t on my own any more but had the infrastructure of an Arts Council funded touring company with an extraordinary track record of championing British Asian artists and stories at the grass roots. All of a sudden, things were looking up.

What’s more, Mulberry had been nurturing a new champion. Afsana Begum had started as Administrative Assistant in the school in 2008, and been a crucial Company Manager behind the scenes on our 2008 and 2009 Edinburgh trips, as well as on the 2010 Southwark Playhouse festival. A brilliant all-rounder, Afsana acts, directs, writes and designs sets and costumes as well as creative producing. A local resident and alumna of the school, she had been quietly absorbing everything she needed to know about theatre production to take the school’s work into a new and exciting phase.

When Afsana set up Rightful Place, it was initially in her own time as a focus for herself and her peers locally to take part in workshops and create work informally, to keep their creativity alive while engaged in parenting or non-arts jobs since leaving school. When Tamasha started an Associate Company attachment scheme in 2016, Rightful Place was one of the first we reached out to. Over a year, we made staff time and expertise available to advise Afsana on her company’s development, brokering industry introductions, structuring her ideas into achievable projects and making her first Arts Council funding application.

Alongside this, I had set up Tamasha Playwrights, a consolidation of my years spent teaching on Playwriting Masters degrees into a writer-led collective and engine room for new ideas and diverse writer training at the heart of Tamasha. Tamasha Playwrights has gone from strength to strength, with Asif Khan, Yolanda Mercy, Iman Qureshi, Matilda Ibini, Amy Ng, Rabiah Hussain and Guleraana Mir among its alumni. The group was a natural first port of call to find a writer when Afsana secured her first Arts Council grant to commission a new play.

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And so it was that Mano’s was born. It’s a proper family affair, written by a Tamasha Playwright, with direction from another Tamasha artist Mina Barber, support from our office staff and our landlords Rich Mix, and even some former Mulberry students who have been to Edinburgh among its cast and crew. Guleraana and Mina have done us proud, and are carrying a very important torch for me personally.

This is why I was a bit emotional at their opening last month. Rightful Place producing Mano’s is the achievement of a long-held ambition, a sign that professional theatre practice is becoming locally owned and led by the women of Tower Hamlets. It’s an extraordinary evolution for the parents of students to be creating their own work, and for their daughters to be coming to see them, rather than the other way around.

So if you are free on Saturday 28 July, do come along and support them. In a way, this show has been 14 years in the making, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. But I have a suspicion that Rightful Place theatre company might be influencing the professional theatre scene for a lot longer than that.

Fin Kennedy
Artistic Director, Tamasha

Mano’s by Guleraana Mir, directed by Mina Barber and produced by Afsana Begum for Rightful Place Theatre Company performs at Rich Mix on Sat 28 July, 6.45pm. More info and tickets here


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