Are divergent views about politics something we should be concerned about? A new thought-provoking production asks big questions as we talk to the playwright…
By Suman Bhuchar
IN A CLIMATE of polarised cultural wars, this timely play, produced by Kali Theatre, explores whether it’s better to speak out or stay silent.
Kali Theatre has also just announced that the internationally acclaimed novelist, Kamila Shamsie is the new patron for the company that celebrates the voices of South Asian women writers across the UK and beyond.
‘Phantasmagoria’ was presented as part of a showcase festival of International Plays held at Tara Theatre in March and has since evolved into a full production, through the support of National Theatre Studio’s Generate Programme. (See link below).
After a short run in Coventry and Newcastle, the show is due to have its official opening at the Southwark Playhouse today. (November 6).
Set in an imagined location in the not too distant future, ‘Phantasmagoria’ has four protagonists who come together to debate opposing politics and how social media can be manipulated to present a perspective.
However, what they don’t contend with is the power of nature – an external element into their discourse – on their politics.
Helena Bell, artistic director of Kali Theatre, explained that “it feels crucial for companies like Kali to contribute to discussions around pressing global issues”.
The minute I read this compelling play, I knew Kali had to programme it, she said. “It really speaks to the zeitgeist, asking serious political questions but delivered with a deft grace.”
Shortlisted for The Hindu* media Playwright Award 2019, and described as a “psychological horror”, the play blurs the boundaries between reality and the natural world.
Briefly, the plot is that a social activist and a seasoned politician are about to have a debate, in an isolated house in the forest.
Surrounded by the eerie outside world of nature, storms and rain intrude into their deliberations creating an atmosphere of growing paranoia where everything is not what it appears and the outcome of events is unpredictable.
It features a cast of four actors: Anthony Bunsee; Ulrika Krishnamurti, Hussina Raja and Tania Rodrigues and is directed by Jo Tyabji, who also managed the staged reading.
www.asianculturevulture.com caught up with the playwright, Deepika Arwind to discover a bit more about the show.
“We assume humans are at the centre of the world, and we’re at the top level in ecology.
“The natural world defines the way we live and the play speaks to bring the outside world inside.
“It uses that to portray the things that we cannot understand and we don’t have a grasp on and that we continue to seek a grasp on – and are often left with no answers.”
Arwind is a theatremaker, playwright and performer based out of Bengaluru (Bangalore), India.
She is the artistic director of The Lost Post Initiative (TLPI), a theatre and performing arts collective that works with diverse artists, largely around gender and women on stage.
She has been making theatre for over 15 years and is currently a resident fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany.
She has worked a lot in Europe and was recently a playwright-in-residence at Jagriti, part of The International Conference of Insecurity – collective of performers from eight countries based in Zurich (November to December 2022), Switzerland.
“This is a project about the precocity of the world we live in uses the conference format and breaks it a bit to talk about vulnerability,” she explained.
She has also been playwright-in-residence for the Welt/Buehne season at the Residenztheater in Munich.
Arwind reveals that she was introduced to Kali by “a wonderful playwright called Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti who actually served as an inspiration to a previous work I had done back in India called, ‘I am not here an 8 Step Guide in how to censor women’s writing’”.
This is a part devised and part written dance theatre, and Arwind wrote to her to request if she could use Bhatti’s work, ‘Behzti’ as a stepping off point for a wider discussion about women and women’s writing from a history of literature onwards.
The final show was due to travel and open at the Singapore Fringe Festival in January 2021 but as the pandemic was still around, this did not take place, but it was performed on video.
However, it did lead to Bhatti introducing Arwind to Kali theatre, and the rest is history.
‘Phantasmagoria’ is an engrossing show and allows audiences into a variety of perspectives.
Arwind hopes that audiences are able to think about the person they disagree with the most – and what that distance between them is and that person – and what it might take to bridge that distance.
Top picture: Bunsee, Tania Rodrigues: Krishnamurti and Raja
All pictures except where indicated – Courtesy of ©Kali Theatre/Nicola Young
National Theatre Generate Programme – https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/about-us/theatre-makers/new-work/
*The Hindu is an English language daily newspaper based in Chennai – second most circulated paper in India.
‘Phantasmagoria’ by Deepika Arwind, Southwark Playhouse Borough, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD
From (November 1) – 25 – see listings for matinee and evening shows…
More info/booking: https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/productions/phantasmagoria/
Tel no: 020 7407 0234
Show runs time 90 mins – no interval and no re-entry – age restriction 14+