Amy chats to Raminder Kaur the writer of breaDth, a multimedia, magic realist drama based on true experiences of the pandemic, prejudice, and the care of older people, opening at the Omnibus Theatre on the 16th of May.
Hi Raminder, how are you feeling ahead of breaDth opening?
Excited and inspired. I’m looking forward to engaging both mainstream and minority communities and looking back at the reality and surreality of the first couple of years of coping with COVID-19. We all went through the pandemic together, but we’ve all got different memories and experiences to relate. I tried to capture as much of this from interviews as I could without losing the plot! And we have a superb team and cast to make them come to life on the stage – Érin Geraghty, Rez Kabir, Suzanne Kendall, Kareem Nasif, and Celine Shamdasani.
What is the inspiration behind breaDth?
Real people, real lives especially as they try to care or not care during the pandemic in England. The script is based on interviews by researchers in the Consortium of Practices of Wellbeing and Resilience among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities. It was quite a mammoth task to capture the themes that were coming out without getting bogged down by them for the flow of the story. In the final script, there’s funny bits, sad parts and evocative moments when we move between time-spaces through movement, music and visuals. A script consultant said it’s ‘a bit like East is East’ but with a bit more relevance and creative edge.
One of the main characters, Tahir, is a carer for those who do not care for him, and a non-carer for those who do care for him – his family. Aysha is trying to look after two elders, three kids while trying to work part-time on a laptop shared with the family. Edie is an enthralling older woman but mentally and physically suffering. She needs care but is carrying a lot of baggage against people of colour and migrants who are the carers. Jamie is her daughter, a bus driver who has to do overtime to make up for the loss of her husband’s job while trying to be there for her mother.
And then moving into magic realism, Ibn Khaldun is a mystic, jurist and philosopher from the fourteenth century (who has been credited for the birth of sociology). He lost both of his parents to the plague at the age of eighteen. He throws another lens on the whole show by pitching the pandemic against the Great Plague years. Although vastly different, one element that brings these periods together is that racialised minorities suffered more than others. While they also caught and died from the contagion, the paranoia of the time led them to being blamed for its spread and their communities despised. In the medieval era it happened with Muslim and Jewish communities in the west. In the modern era it happens most obviously with those of East and Southeast Asian descent but also with other racialised minorities – many of whom were key workers at most risk of catching the disease, and then blamed for spreading it.
What are the main themes within the production?
Viruses, Johnson and Hancock. Caring and not caring. Loneliness on the one side, and social suffocation, on the other. Food and football. Racism and police emergency powers. Past and present pandemics.
Where do you find your inspiration when writing?
From almost anything: it could be something as simple as a raindrop hanging on from the bottom of a leaf after a rainstorm, on the one hand; to how governments get away with murder and then blame others for it, on the other. The first is life-enhancing. The other is intolerable, and I feel the need to call it out. There’s a lot of stories waiting to get the oxygen of publicity. We are their channels.
What’s been a career highlight so far?
I can’t pin one down but if I could have the liberty to highlight three recent ones. One is, of course, completing breaDth and it being received so well by others in Co-POWeR including those people whose stories it is based on – the ‘great reveal’ is a very nerve-wracking process. The feedback for the R&D last year underlined the fact that it is ‘a powerful play’.
Another highlight is an upcoming play called Exodus: Asia Africa Europe that I wrote, which was a finalist in the BOLD Playwright competition this year.
The third is that I have been shortlisted for the Asian Women of Achievement Award in the Arts and Culture category. www.awaawards.com/our-alumni-category/2023/ The award recognises the ‘extraordinary achievements of Asian women in UK’. It was set up 23 years ago by Pinky Lilani CBE DL years ago and has Cherie Blair and HRH Princess Badiya bint El Hassan as patrons. I’ll find out in June whether I win or not!
Do you have any advice for budding playwrights?
Write whatever you feel strongly about. When you’ve finished the first draft, give it a few days and go back to it with a sharp eye – working out what it is you want to say, who are the main characters, what are the main contradictions and dilemmas, how can you resolve them? Don’t get too attached to the word. Make sure they flow well in dialogue. And don’t forget the action.
Recently, our companies tried to support new writers with a scriptwriting competition (RAFTA: Rise Against Fanaticism Through the Arts), dramaturgy, readings, and performing the wining script for the stage. We plan to do this again soon.
And finally, why should people book tickets to see breaDth?
Because it is wonderful, powerful, and will take your breath away.
ABOUT THE SHOW
breaDth is on at the Omnibus Theatre from the 16th of May until the 3rd of June, tickets start from £10 – find out more here!