Best known as an area for its curry houses, a new show takes you on a journey of discovery…
By Suman Bhuchar
DESCRIBED as an “audio walking tour” adventure, ‘We are Shadows: Brick Lane’, is certainly a new form of live theatre that is a mixture of a walk, history lesson and a game.
This is something we will become more familiar with as the Covid crisis continues and creatives figure out how to make theatre in this new challenging environment. Basically, for now, all you need is a fully charged smartphone, a pair of ear plugs and you are sent a link and you press play.
We are urged to walk down this street and instructed to answer questions online and if you miss it and your browser closes you have to go back to the beginning – a bit like snakes and ladders.
This happened to me a few times. Part of the problem may have been my phone or a lack of clarity in the instructions but hey ho, you need to press on.
You are then invited to look at the E1 Brick Lane area with new eyes and listen attentively as theatre artist, Afsana Begum begins her voiceover narrative, asking us to look up and into the shadows to see the ghosts of people who have made Brick Lane their home.
Some of the prose is overly poetic with descriptive expressions of the area, being close to the “white heat of capitalism” or being “an area of cheap labour and overpopulation” and “take it all in and look for the ghosts in the shadows”.
Begum is a dynamic emerging artist and producer who has been involved in theatre education for over 10 years with Mulberry School and was the company manager for ‘Cry God for Harry, England & St George’ (2018) show.
She has now set up a minority ethnic female company, Rightful Place Theatre Company, one of the producers of this show along with Tamasha Theatre, and interactive theatre makers, Coney.
It is written by Tamasha’s Artistic Director Fin Kennedy and playwright Rabiah Hussain and directed by Sita Thomas.
The approximate time for this adventure is around an hour but mine took longer. The story acquires pathos when Begum shares her personal history about living in the area and wanting to move away, or something about her father “with his deep-set eyes twinkling with the sorrow of migration”.
You want her to go into the depth about making home in the East End during the 1980s when the brothers Haroon and Farook Shamsher created a new musical sound, with their band Joi and as she herself says “save the Bengali shadows” by collecting their stories.
But this is an adventure and we have tasks to do like collect stories or undertake challenges – such as talking to strangers – difficult in this Covid world and also some shops were closed – which were originally open.
I feel that sometimes Begum does over-talk in my ear and that can be a bit irritating.
I went on a Friday when all the men were going to the mosque for Friday prayers and the street was mainly a male preserve and you wonder what the ghosts might make of that!
This story is immersive and participatory and it felt a bit long because the narrator continues to ask questions about the type of memories we have created through our visit.
I respect the ingenuity behind this family-friendly piece which offers fun, entertainment and insight but some editing would make it sharper.
ACV rating: **** (out of five)
Booking is via the Rich Mix Box Office and ‘We are shadows: Brick Lane’ is on at various times. There are eight shows a day from 11am to 12.45 at 15-minute intervals
Dates: Friday, September 18 and Saturday, September 19; Friday, September 25 and Saturday, September 26 and Friday, October 2.