Theatre

Harlesden High Street

Harlesden High Street, presented by The Indian Ensemble, will open The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Festival on December 2. The play is set in Harlesden High Street in London, known for its high crime rate and immigrant population, comprising mainly Jamaicans, Poles and Pakistanis. The play explores the lives, aspirations and frustrations of the working class through the voices and accounts of three Pakistani immigrants: Rehaan, Karim and Ammi. The play essentially focuses on issues of immigration and identity, with the understanding of the notion of home interwoven within the narrative.

The lives of all three protagonists are closely linked to each other. Rehaan, a who has settled recently in Harlesden High Street, runs a shop along with Karim while Ammi is Karim’s mother, who are second generation immigrants.

Harlesden High Street has been directed by Neel Chaudhuri, the winner of the 2010 MetroPlus Playwright Award for his critically acclaimed play “Taramandal”. An alumnus of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, Neel Chaudhuri completed his post-graduation in film and television studies from the University of Warwick. He is considered to be a leading light in contemporary theatre. Abhishek Majumdar won the 2008 MetroPlus Playwright Award for Harlesden High Street. He is a Charles Wallace fellow and an alumnus of the London International School of Performing Arts.

The cast of the play include Arundhati Nag, Momo Ghosh, Swetanshu Bora and the Chorus from The Indian Ensemble group. Arundhati Nag is a well-known, multi-lingual theatre and film actor. Momo Ghosh is a talented actor who has won acclaim for the consummate ease with which he slips into the many roles he has essayed on stage. Swetanshu Bora has several years of experience in theatre and is a well-known talented theatre actor. The Indian Ensemble is a theatre group based out of Bangalore that encourages original works and conducts a one year training programme for performers, writers and directors.

Notions of identity

MetroPlus spoke with Neel Chaudhuri, the director of “Harlesden High Street”, who gave us an interesting analysis on the issues the play seeks to portray.

Why did you choose to present a play on identity?

Abhishek, the playwright, and I have both studied in England, so we have some understanding on issues of immigration. The question of identity is universal. A lot of people who move from one place to another find it easy to adjust while many others are forced to struggle to find their identity in a place that is far from home. Having said that, identity is not just geographical; it's also about forging new relationships with people and the workplace and developing a sense of community, a sense of belonging. The audience will find a resonance with the play as it depicts the all too familiar feeling of leaving one life and adjusting to another.

How did you connect with Harlesden High?

I read the play a year ago. The play has a lyrical ring to it, which I found very appealing. It was a huge challenge for me to translate it into stage. ‘How do I create rupture? How do I bring in conflict?' were some the questions over which I thought deeply.

On reading the script more carefully, I understood that the play had a very interesting subtext. The history and lifestyle of the Pakistani people is deep and complex and the play provides an alternative understanding of how we generally perceive Pakistan.

The play deals with the “working class”, but in our current popular imagination the “working class” has been replaced by the “middle class”. What do you think about this?

“Middle class” as a term is relative; it's about looking economically at the position of one particular class against another.

I consider “working class” as those who work towards creating an identity for themselves through their work. Their work dominates their lives. The play has effectively addressed myriad issues within the work space that is very much a part of our daily lives.

A play is one of the best ways to hold up a mirror to society. What about the play, do you think, will linger in the minds of the audience?

The play is about stories of broken and fractured lives that endure. You see, it's very easy to look towards despair. There is optimism in this play in that there is constant sense of wanting life to be better and striving to make it so.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 3:59:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Harlesden-High-Street/article13747252.ece

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