Creators of a poignant play tell us how racism still lingers
A poignant play set in the UK is making waves in India. Ahead of the Mumbai premiere, its creator shares how racism still lingers in the subconscious
Growing up in a predominantly white village in south-western England, Natasha Marshall realised early on that she was different. She would attend the same school as the other kids in the area, and lived in a neighbourhood which by no means was a ghetto. It was the '90s after all, and the colour of your skin had ceased to be of consequence. Or so one would think. A young girl of mixed race, Marshall would often encounter casual racism in the form of snide jokes at the local pub and even some blatantly spiteful remarks asking her to go back to her country. "People would call me a Paki [a colloquial term for Pakistani], when I wasn't even Asian!" recalls the 27-year-old.
It was only when she moved to London to attend an acting school that she began to see the world differently. "In London, people are a lot more open-minded. And you can't get away with racism there because it is such a cosmopolitan city," says Marshall. During the course, she discovered her love for writing poetry and this is how Half Breed was born — as a poem at a spoken-word night. It was then developed into a short play with Talawa Theatre Company and Soho Theatre's Writers' Lab in London. This year, the full-length version of the play made its debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe season. It has been shortlisted for the Soho Young Writers' Tony Craze Award 2016, Alfred Fagon Award (2016) as well as for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards for Best New Play.
Largely auto-biographical, the 60-minute play, written and performed by Marshall and directed by Miranda Cromwell, is the coming-of-age story of a young woman, Jazmin, and her struggle with being treated as an outsider in her own community. "I called it Half Breed because people in my village still use such terms. It's a comment on how the old ways of thinking still linger in 2017. It's a punch in the face," says Marshall, adding, "I wrote this play because my younger self would have really appreciated it if someone had done it at that time." In fact, in 2018, she plans to take the production to her village, where it all began. "I am a bit scared. But if it makes people awkward, it will lead to a conversation. And that's the aim."
Natasha Marshall performs at the Edinburgh Festival. Pics/Richard Davenport, The Other Ric
On a four-city tour in India, the play has already received standing ovations in Bengaluru and Chennai. How does she situate the story in India, which practises its own brand of racism through its unabashed love for fair skin? "Yes, many members of the audience told me how they could relate to the play. It is sad," she says, adding, "When you are feeling low or depressed, you can only come out of the situation if you have faith in yourself. And this journey has helped me be proud of every part of myself."
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