Early Histories – Interviews

Harbhajan Virdi    Zohra Sehgal   Jamila Massey    Reginald Massey    Rifat Shamin    Girish Karnad     Badal Sircar    Rita Wolf

One of the interesting aspects of the research project was learning about some of the early histories of South Asians making theatre in Britain from the 1950s to 1970s. Many of these stories were from writers, directors, and actors who moved between the Indian subcontinent and Britain, creating a transnational flow of theatre plays and practices. To give a flavour of this history, you can find edited versions of interviews with some of these key figures by clicking on the links below. Listening to their stories gives an indication of the changing theatre scene in both the Indian subcontinent and Britain, and the influences that moved between them due to movements of people. In the interviews with Rifat Shamim and Harbhajan Virdi, in addition to their own work, you can also hear about the importance of the National Association of Asian Youth, founded by Ravi Jain, in forming the Asian Youth Drama group that led to performances, as well as festivals in venues in London such as the Royal Albert Hall. Jamila Massey’s journey through theatre and television in Britain shows some of the struggles of these early practitioners, also discussed in the interview with her husband, writer and critic Reginald Massey, whilst renowned actress, the late Zohra Sehgal, talks of her experience as a dancer with Uday Shankar’s troupe, performing in Dartington Hall in Devon. Girish Karnad and the late Badal Sircar, both well-known in India as playwrights and directors, talk of their connection to theatre in Britain. Actress and producer Rita Wolf is also included. Though a later generation, her story shows the continuing narrative of British South Asian theatre, as she went on to be a co-founder of Kali Theatre Company.

41 Hedda in India, Jamila Massey Zohra Seghal, b-w photo,1983

Zohra Sehgal and Jamila Massey in ‘Hedda in India’, produced by Actors Unlimited,  adapted and directed by Madhav Sharma, 1983

The interviews were originally recorded for the purposes of research rather than public broadcast, and so there is some background noise, and it may be better to listen through headphones. Each interview is approximately 30 minutes, and consists of edited extracts taken from much longer interviews. More will be added over time.

Clicking on the names below will take you to a new page which will have summary biographical information, and the audio file. The interviews were edited by two PhD students in the University of Exeter, Rebecca Savory Fuller and Giselle Garcia, who also wrote much of the text that accompanies the recordings.

Harbhajan Virdi

Zohra Sehgal

Jamila Massey

Reginald Massey

Rifat Shamim

Girish Karnad

Badal Sircar

Rita Wolf

To Anchor a cloud jpeg

Poster for ‘To Anchor A Cloud’ by Dilip Hiro, directed by Harbhajan Virdi in 1970. The production was presented and promoted by Nava Kala cultural institute, which was in an Indian restaurant in London, and became an important meeting place for artists.