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Talkback 2016 – Kali Theatre’s new talent steps up to the stage…

Talkback 2016 – Kali Theatre’s new talent steps up to the stage…

January 14 2015

Exciting and mostly fresh voices hit London theatre for first time…

AUDIENCES in London are getting a glimpse of the next wave of Asian stage writing talent in Kali’s annual Talkback series.

The women-orientated theatre company has a series of play readings in London this week and it culminates in a full production of two plays, starting on Tuesday (January 19).

Stateless” by Subika Anwar and “She is not Herself” by Veronica J Dewan will be performed as a full production for the first time, at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Convent Garden and will enjoy a double bill four-night run.

The other play readings as part of Talkback – first started in 2008 – have only been on for an evening and two are left – tonight’s “Familiar Strangers” by Nina Joshi Ramsey and tomorrow’s “Sweets and Chocolates” by Shazia Ashraf, who spoke to recently about her Bradford play, “99% Halal”. On the same night tomorrow is “Splinter” by Abhi Arumbakkam.

Most of those who feature in this talkback run are first time writers who bring something fresh and unique to British theatre.

That is part of the aim for Janet Steel, Kali artistic director, who works closely with the new writers in the company’s writer development programme.

Janet Steel, artistic director Kali Theatre

“We don’t look for themes,” Steel told “We’re looking for the voice, if they’ve got something to say and how they want to say it.”

With Kali for 15 years, she’s seen changes in the kind of material that comes Kali’s way and said that this year’s Talkback has had a more personal edge to it.

“It does go in cycles. A lot of it is the politics of what is going on around the world and responding to it but this time they have tended to be more personal.

“We’ve got a story on dementia, a mother who turns her back on a son because he marries a black woman, and another one about adoption. They are more personal which is a good thing.”

She said when she first started it was not unusual to get plays by women writers about their family relationships.

“They were very much about mothers and daughters and very much set in the kitchen and around food – that’s really shifted now, it’s a lot more global and writers are really concerned about the world they are living in.”

That might not be immediately apparent in Subika Anwar’s “Stateless”.

The play centres around ‘Denny’, a former British soldier, who served in Afghanistan and is now on civvy street, working as a security guard at a low level mental health unit.

He is confronted (at first), and perhaps intriguingly befriended (later) by ‘Kat’ who is of Pakistani origin but has lived in Britain most of her life.

While this is primarily a two-hander with Shanaya Rafaat (last seen in “Around the World in 80 days“), playing Kat and Simon James Bailie reprising the role of Denny, there is another unseen voice that exerts a powerful hold over Denny (‘The Boss’ – David Michaels).

Kat (Shanaya Rafaat) and Denny (Simon James Bailie in rehearsal for 'Stateless'

“It’s about giving a voice to the voiceless,” Anwar told

“I hope it opens up debate and fires questions,” said a clearly passionate Anwar. “A lot of my work as an artist and as a playwright touches upon the context of war.

“My play is about looking at a more contemporary kind of cold war – and the conflict in the Middle East and the fight there.

“It’s looking at the grey areas and who is at the bottom of the line and who his (Denny’s) commanders are and who he took his directions from and asks, are we completely powerless and is intervening in these countries the right thing to do?”

She said she does not want to preach to the converted and writes from personal experience of barriers that can be raised by prejudice and ignorance.

As a Muslim, she has felt a sense of being dislocated from mainstream British society and the way it thinks about Muslims more generally.

“There’s definitely a feeling of uncertainty even in somewhere as cultured and urban as London, there are a lot of stigmas now as a result of 9/11 and everything’s that happened recently in France as well.

“I’ve felt it a personal level, my family have felt it and sometimes people are being dictated to and being fed lies and using that information and throwing it onto the people nearest to them.”

Intelligent, and thoughtful, the Northampton raised aspiring theatre director, (she already works with youth productions at her local Royal & Derngate {R&D} Theatre), initially developed the “Stateless” both with Nottingham Playhouse and her local R&D, but this is the first time there will be a full production.

A creative writing graduate from the University of Gloucestershire, she told her accountant parents were a little taken back by her choice and her desire to carve out a career in the arts.

“They’ve been very supportive and if it wasn’t for my mum, I wouldn’t be here doing all this. She’s been a massive advocate for all I’ve done – she’s very creative.”

Subika Anwar, author 'Stateless'

Her interest in acting, performing and dancing has set her against some from her own community.

“I did talent shows and I went to dance school and some saw it as Americanised and westernised culture and they didn’t understand it or find it attractive.

“I did feel in the middle – and stateless.”

Her play appears in a double bill with “She is Not Herself“, which Steel described as being “very tender and moving”.

About a mixed race girl given up for adoption who meets her biological mother and asks ‘why did you not want to keep a brown baby?’, it is based on the real experience of writer, Dewan.

It is hoped that a couple of these readings or productions will continue to be developed and either taken on tour by Kali itself or further explored by other theatres.

In February/March, Kali takes “The Dishonoured”, a play set in Pakistan about the wrangling of the CIA and ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service) over Afghanistan, on tour.

Written by Aamina Ahmad, it was first performed at a Talkback in 2012.

Steel explained: “It’s taken four years to develop, its changed a lot and it’s told in a slightly different way (from when it was first performed) – you have to be prepared to start again and that’s tough – but it’s important and about the craft.

“I make it quite clear from the beginning that it’s really down to them (the writers) if they put the work in they will get the results and it’s really important for us to be in a position where they (the writers and their work) can’t be knocked down and the play can be shown across the country to thousands of people.”

January 15 – ‘Sweets and Chocolates’ by Shazia Ashraf and ‘Splinter’ by Abhi Arumbakkam
January 22 – ‘Jack in the Box’ (in development) by Naylah Ahmed
Readings from £6; double bill plays from £10
General info & tickets:–readings

January 19-23 – ‘Stateless’ by Subika Anwar and ‘She is not herself’ Veronica J Dewan
Tickets for this:–she-is-not-herself-stateless
Tristan Bates Theatre, Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower St, Covent Garden, WC2H 9NP
Box Office: 020 3841 6611

Talkback 2016 – ‘Porcelain Dolls’ by Yasmin Whittaker-Khan; ‘The Deported’ by Sadia Saeed; ‘Faded’ by Sharanpreet Kaur Atwal; ‘Pebbles and Stones’ by Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture