April 20 2016
She made a name for herself around the world and now she makes a debut at a famous old theatre in a socially relevant production…
HACKNEY in East London seems like an unlikely venue for an opera and it will be a rare opportunity to see and hear one of the most outstanding singers ever to have come out of India.
But that is precisely what will happen later this evening, when Brolly Productions stages its opera “Clocks 1888: the greener” at the Hackney Empire with opera icon Patricia Rozario.
The famous Hackney Empire is an entirely apt location for this opera which has immigration and diversity at its heart.
Rozario, probably India’s best ever opera export, will play one of the four leading roles, as an ‘ayah’ (nurse/servant) who is abandoned in the East End by the British family that brings her over from the India of the Raj in 1888.
Rozario who has sung all over the world and on many of the most iconic stages – such as the Royal Opera House Convent Garden, Sydney Opera House and Glyndebourne – told www.asianculturevulture.com: “It’s a big deal for me to be singing at the Hackney Empire.
“It’s a very historic venue and the tradition of live music continues there and as an artist you want to experience as many places as possible.”
The unusual title with ‘greeners’ in it, refers to the East End slang for immigrants at the time and the story revolves around a brilliant young greener (Keisha Atwell) who has found her way to London from the West Indies. Rozario’s character, Ma, befriends her and becomes her ally.
Greener’s main function is to keep the Tower Clock running (and the East End going) under the evil and relentless eye of Coster (Dickon Gough) who is mean and nasty.
Into the mix comes ‘Author’ (Adam Temple-Smith) who is from the West End, monied and fascinated by the characters he finds in this part of London.
The venue is yet more appropriate because it is thought that a house that was once used by abandoned ‘Ayahs’ existed on the site before it become a musical hall and theatre in 1901.
“I didn’t know anything about these Ayahs before I started this,” Rozario expounded. “So so many Indian women were abandoned.”
Most families could not afford to send the ayahs back to India or continue to employ them in Britain as they had done under the Raj, where the salary was either very small or most were just fed, clothed, and housed for the work they did with British families.
Created by Brolly Productions – a mixed media production outfit or ‘ideas company’ as they describe themselves – it is made up of designer and illustrator, Rachana Jadhav and director/writer/librettist Dominic Hingorani.
Collobarting creatively, the pair created “Clocks 1888: the greener”, to explore important contemporary themes but through a modern, accessible opera with Martin Ward composing.
Hingorani, who has published a book on British Asian Theatre, told www.asianculturevulture.com it was a thrill to have the play on in the East End and with a cast that represented the characters perfectly.
“We never dreamed we would get Patricia,” he admitted. “That was beyond any expectation of ours.”
Professional casting director Sarah Playfair contacted Rozario and asked if she was interested in the part.
“I thought my opera days were over,” Rozario admitted to www.asianculturevulture.com. “I haven’t done one for a couple of years.”
Intrigued by the story and her natural love of the form, she didn’t need too much convincing.
“I love the opera because it’s so grand and you can reach a bigger audience,” said Rozario.
For Hingorani, the fact that two of the characters are of colour and are played by actors of colour, meant something.
He said staging it in a diverse area and keeping prices down was all part of the mission to make opera seem relevant and accessible.
“It’s important that the characters are represented appropriately on stage, it’s not the only thing, but it’s a very important element.”
The original idea to stage the story in a theatrical clock tower came from Jadhav.
“It really came about looking at the clocks in London and the memorials, and seeing they had characters built in them.”
Brolly’s productions start mostly from an image or a fragment or even a poem.
Jadhav explained: “We work slightly differently to other companies. We have an idea, then we storyboard it together. Our work starts with a drawing or a poem.”
Hingorani also wanted to show the disparity between those in the West End of London and those who lived in the East.
“People coming from the West End at that time would come to see people in the East End for entertainment. You could go on a tour, quite literally.”
While the singing is in English, characters like Greener and Coster come with their own linguistic idiosyncrasies.
“It’s as in life, Greener’s language is a mix up of (accents) cockney, Irish, Indian, patois,” pointed out Hingorani.
“What’s lovely about that is that it brings its own musical quality,” added Jadhav.
With this particular production, it began with the great Victorian clocks and Jadhav’s imagination and illustrations have been realised on stage.
“She’s really recreated it so well, it’s very beautiful,” added Rozario of the set.
It promises to be quite a spectacle and not just visually.
“For the most part it is very operatic and quite complex and there are moments where I have to improvise in the Indian tradition and I did have lessons in Indian classical music a long time ago (for another opera) but I didn’t study it that long and it’s a question of hearing that sound and trying to tune in.
“An operatic voice develops in a particular way but you can make adjustments to colour it, so it sounds a little more Indian,” explained Rozario.
The show is only on for three nights in Hackney, having played in Doncaster last week. Brolly hope to be able to take it on tour and are on the look out for potential partners and/or sponsors to make that happen.
- ‘Clocks 1888: the greener’, Hackney Empire, Wednesday, April 20-22, Hackney Empire, 291 Mare St London E8 1EJ
Tel: 020 8985 2424
- More info/tickets: http://www.hackneyempire.co.uk/4838/shows/clocks-1888-the-greener.html