The recent vitriolic backlash against Muslims is explored in a new play which is set to go on tour in 2017.
Jack In The Box, by Naylah Ahmed, will feature in the Kali Theatre Companies’ Talkback season. It champions the work of new south Asian women playwrights in a series of readings showcasing the pieces for the very first time.
The company, which has been going strong for the past 25 years, mentors writers through a development programme which provides tutorials and workshops to help nurture new talent.
Ahmed’s creation will form one of eight staged readings featuring “provocative, funny and courageous new plays”, and is the culmination of the nine-month programme.
This will be followed by two productions which are being staged for the first time.
Janet Steel is the artistic director at Kali, who also directed the contentious play Behzti over 10 years ago. It was banned because it provoked violent protests and depicted rape and murder in a Sikh temple.
Steel told Eastern Eye: “One of the themes it [Behzti] was exploring was hatred and bigotry, and it’s a shame that was silenced in itself. In real life it happened exactly as what happened in the play.
“Times have changed a lot. I like to think that wouldn’t happen again; there wasn’t anything in the play that was attacking any community whatsoever. It was a play about individuals, and in all societies you get good and bad people.
“I like to think times are different now but there are other challenges – the south Asian community is under a lot of pressure in so many ways, especially the Muslim community.
“Jack In The Box, which we hope to tour in 2017, is about a middle-aged English housewife who’s lost a son in the war. A young Muslim boy knocks on her door collecting for charity and she kidnaps him.
“Her fear of Muslims is so extreme that she wants to hurt him in the same way that she feels she’s been hurt. It’s the exploration of hatred against Muslims.”
The majority of productions which are taken on tour by Kali begin as readings. Steel explained: “The aim of the programme is to enable more south Asian women to become playwrights; it’s geared to get more of their voices into British theatre.”
“When Kali first started, there were very few south Asian women playwrights. Now there are more but still very few plays performed by Asian women in the country, and the majority of the work is the work we do. Tanika Gupta did one of her very first plays about 22 years ago at Kali.”
The artistic director said it was not difficult for theatres to be culturally diverse, but those who select new work need to “have faith and give writers the time needed to develop as playwrights”.
“They are the gatekeepers, they hold the key as to who gets a job and who doesn’t, and that’s a lot of time down to taste. It’s easy to be culturally diverse, it’s easy, you just do it,” she said.
The Talkback season runs from January 11 to 23 at Tristan Bates Theatre in London. For more information, go to www.kalitheatre.co.uk