June 22 2016
A play which had its first public reading earlier this year has been chosen by one of the country’s most prestigious drama schools for a full production and its subject matter is anything but conventional…
CHILDHOOD sexual abuse is a tough subject for anyone, let alone an emerging playwright.
However, it’s a sign of just how powerful and different Shazia Ashraf’s “Sweets and Chocolates” is, that it has been chosen by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) to feature in its annual 10-day theatre festival, which looks at ways of expanding the possibilities of theatre.
It was first read in public and produced by Kali Theatre company at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London in January, for its annual Talkback series, which showcases work of promising up and coming new playwrights.
There are six new performances of “Sweets and Chocolates”, with the first tomorrow (Thursday June 23, see listing details below) and the work appears in the physical theatre section of RADA’s 10-day festival which gets underway today.
The play consists of three first person fictional testimonies and RADA have added important physical attributes.
There’s ‘Nadia’, a cricket obsessed girl growing up in Pakistan; ‘Catherine’, a devout churchgoer in Congo; and the headmistress of a English private school. All have very personal tales to tell.
We caught up with the Yorkshire-based Ashraf to ask her how she came to be tackling such a difficult subject and how her play, only her third, came to RADA’s attention.
Shazia Ashraf (SA): This was a conversation between Kali Theatre, Shona Morris the director and RADA. After its reading in January at Tristan Bates Theatre, the conversations continued. It was clear the play could and should be developed further, due to it being so timely.
ACV: Why did you want to write about this subject? What made you choose of format of three monologues…?
SA: Like almost everyone the subject matter is one we instantly close our ears and eyes to. Not because we want it to silently continue, but because we don’t want to believe it happens and the thought of such acts make us sick. The sad reality is that it happens. The reason it continues is that we shut it out. So, I’ve always said art can allow you to open conversations and think about subjects we’re not comfortable with.
Movement and music, as well as text, is used to tell the story to deliver emotions that only people in those situations would feel and understand.
Each character is from a different age group, a different country, and a different religion. At home, in a religious building, in a school, in a village, in a town, in a city. These three characters are deliberately different to reflect that the subject matter effects everyone, everywhere.
ACV: How do you create a drama and make it something people can relate to and see and even ‘enjoy’… what is the process and the balance required?
SA: Theatre is something different for everyone. I believe it should make you think and question. If it makes you act upon something positively, it’s done something incredible. I was always the type of person to even avoid reading articles on the subject, so to write it was incredibly difficult.
It’s the first piece of writing I’ve done that’s really challenged me. I’ve had to step away from the keyboard and fell ill at the thought of it. The more difficult it was, the more I knew I had to write it.
ACV: Has it changed much from its reading at this year’s Kali? How will it be a full production?
SA: In January it was a script in hand reading at Tristan Bates for Kali Theatres Talkback. Three female voices told us their stories. The play has had many cuts and redrafts and is still running about the same length.
However, what is different this time is that the women are not telling their stories but living their stories.
We follow them in their daily routines, see their trauma and feel their destinies.
The director Shona Morris has beautifully captured moments of emotion with movement and music. You will see something more theatrically different in its delivery this time.
ACV: What is next? What are you working on? Do you have hopes for this to get a theatre run?
SA: Something exciting is brewing, but will talk about that in the future when it is a little more concrete. Currently I’m working on directing a new feature length play ‘Reservoir Rami’ which people can see in its early development stages in the autumn.
For ‘Sweets and Chocolates’, there is a hope to have a tour (Inshallah) I don’t want this to be the end but the start of the ‘Sweets and Chocolates’ journey. The play has so much to say.
‘Sweets and Chocolates’ by Shazia Ashraf and directed by Shona Morris at Rada, George Bernard Shaw (GBS) Theatre, Malet Street, London WC1E 7JN
From Thursday, June 23 9.15pm
Ends: Friday, July 1 7.15pm
Pre-show discussion (with ticket only): Thursday, June 27 6.15pm. show 7.15pm.
For full listing, more info and booking: http://www.rada.ac.uk/whats-on/rada-festival/all-festival-events/1992
Kali Theatre Listing: http://www.kalitheatre.co.uk/whats-on/Sweets.html