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A Day In The Life Of: Tamasha Theatre Company

19 April 2014 Natasha Sutton-Williams

Tamasha as a word means ‘commotion; making a scene, making a fuss’ in Hindi and Urdu sat down with co-artistic directors Sudha Bhuchar and Fin Kennedy of Tamasha to discuss Sudha’s new play ‘My Name is…’ and the state of diversity in British Theatre.

What is ‘My Name is…’ About?

Sudha: It’s based on the real life story of Molly Campbell, the girl who ran away which was in the papers in 2006. It’s crafted from my interviews in 2008 and is about a half Pakistani, half Scottish girl who decided to leave her Scottish home and go live with her father in Pakistan. The newspapers treated it as a kind of ‘Islam versus the West’ story - the psychological war on terror. The press fictionalised the parents: he was the fundamentalist father, she was the distraught mother. Once they found out that the girl Molly had left of her own accord, he became the benevolent father and she became the unfit mother. The play is about setting the record straight.

How do you write and structure a verbatim play?

Sudha: It’s completely different to anything I’ve done. I didn’t intend it to be verbatim. I interviewed the parents and the girl, had 120 pages of transcribed interviews and thought I was writing a fictional piece based on their voices. It’s taken me 6 years. But every time I was making up dialogue I felt this huge responsibility to the real people, I kept going back to them and finding their words more powerful. I wrote a very fractured draft: partly verbatim, partly made up scenes. I worked with dramaturg Lin Coghlan and we decided simplicity was the best thing. I needed to give myself the restriction of editing but within their words and structure it chronologically so we could follow the story.

What does Tamasha do as a theatre company?

Fin: Tamasha as a word means ‘commotion; making a scene, making a fuss’ in Hindi and Urdu. It was founded 25 years ago as the British Asian national touring company, championing British Asian artists and stories which were unheard. We’re a political company who take part in national debate around diversity in the arts, representation on stages, and proactively seek out writers from backgrounds which don’t normally birth artists and writers. Ishy Din is a recent example: he is a taxi driver from Middlesbrough, British Pakistani second generation, who wrote ‘Snookered’ about four Muslim northern lads in their 20’s getting drunk in a snooker hall on the anniversary of a friend’s death. This is not a usual representation of young British Muslims.

What is Tamasha Developing Artists?

Fin: One of Tamasha’s unique selling points is Tamasha Developing Artists which is an emerging artists development programme that is huge – the biggest I’ve ever come across in any company. There’s about 1,500 emerging artists on that list. Every three months there’s a scratch night at Rich Mix where artists can submit works in progress, there’s masterclasses in various aspects of theatre making, there’s a TDA newsletter. A longstanding tradition in Tamasha is using the main production as a kind of spine which we hang other projects from. Often that’s through TDA which is a huge resource and one that I want to expand and grow.  

Why is it important to Tamasha to support, encourage and provide space for emerging artists?

Sudha: We are nurturing people who are being missed. Somebody like Ishy Din, without Tamasha, would not be in the mainstream. Similarly, if you go back all those years to East is East, that play was rejected everywhere, but now it’s mainstream. It’s very important for us to discover the new voices that people are missing. People aren’t doing that grass roots nurturing.

Fin: That work is more important than ever because the cuts to the arts means a lot of companies are curtailing development work because it’s time-consuming and expensive. You have to get out of your comfort zone and get into schools, community centres and youth theatres. 

Sudha: Someone like Ishy, he didn’t grow up going to the theatre. I’m like that: I didn’t go to the theatre. There are unusual pathways to get into this business.

There is so much white middleclass theatre. How can we change that?

Sudha: It’s about changing hearts and minds. It’s valuing that BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) work is multi-layered and multi-textured and that you might not always have the parameters with which to judge it’s quality. Sometimes we can get caught in this Eurocentric view of what quality is.

Fin: On a practical level, there’s a lot of work to be done around nurturing BAME producers. There’s been investment put into BAME artists, but look around for the producers. They’re the ones who curate projects, raise the money, have behind-the-scenes influence and the basic economic and artistic understanding of what does and doesn’t get on. Writers are just as important because they are the ones who decide whose lives are worth putting a frame around.  

‘My Name is…’ is on at Arcola Theatre from 30th April to 24th May. For more information and to buy tickets please click here.

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