British South Asian Theatre: mapping histories and practices
The histories of theatre made by South Asian companies, writers, performers, directors and designers over the past forty years shows not just a changing form of theatre practice, but also a changing Britain, shaped by the patterns of migration and diaspora that altered the landscape and culture of the country. Theatre offers the means to examine these changes not only in the communities, but in Britain itself. However, the histories and practices of South Asian companies and practitioners have tended to remain largely at the margins, and so often invisible to mainstream eyes. A number of research projects and publications have been trying to change this by making visible the histories of performances and performance-makers who have made a major contribution to the development of a highly successful and diverse theatre movement.
This website draws on material from two research projects (see About) undertaken in the Department of Drama at the University of Exeter, and intends to be a resource for information and material relating to the work produced by South Asian companies and practitioners. Although most histories record Tara Arts as being the first established and funded British South Asian theatre company, founded in 1977, there are other prior histories of actors and writers working in this country and the Indian subcontinent that are important, and some of these are presented in the section on Early Histories with a selection of edited interviews. The story of British South Asian theatre has often been the story of companies, and a list of some of these companies and links to their work is found here.. There is also a Timeline, offering a contextualisation of some of the productions and companies in relation to historical and political events to orientate and observe the changes in theatre reflecting the changes in society. In addition, a Resources page offers suggestions for reading, viewing, and links to other material that may be useful for further research.
In wanting to reveal the complex histories of South Asian theatre in Britain, we hope this might also address what it means to be British, and how this has changed as a result of the presence and work made by South Asian theatre practitioners. Writer Hanif Kureishi said: ‘I had to learn what it was to be British, which meant Britain had to reinvent itself for my benefit rather than the other way round. By which I mean that Britain had to see that it had become a different kind of place’ (Interview, 2013). The theatre productions and practitioners discussed on this website show how both theatre and Britain reinvented themselves as a result of the hard work and creative endeavours undertaken by the practitioners to express and perform their view of what it means to be South Asian in Britain.