If you step outside the hallowed circle of inner London theatre you come across some amazing treasures. The Arcola in the East End, in Hackney, is one such. Based in a converted paint factory, it prides itself not only on its eclectic, adventurous programming but its pioneering green credentials, doing its bit to make links between the arts and sustainable living. Even its loos are environmentally friendly.
Its Spring season includes a restyled Waiting for Godot played as a standup routine by Edinburgh Fringe comedy duo, Totally Tom, a new play by a playwright we’ve seen far too little of in recent years, Sarah Daniels and a defiantly non West End reimagining of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel as well as a rarely seen Ionesco (The Bald Prima Donna) and pieces inspired by American satirist, Kurt Vennegut.
But when it comes to sustainable living, Tamasha’s My Name is… couldn’t be more pertinent. This extraordinary, twenty five year old British-Asian company founded by Christine Landon-Smith and Sudha Bhuchar have probably done more than any company to investigate and reflect the diversity of Britian’s multi-cultural nation to itself.
And in these troubling times, My Name is…, a verbatim based piece, written by Bhuchar, and directed by playwright and director Philip Osment hits on a major issue of contention – the influence of religion in personal life – through a story that in 2006 hit the national headlines and seemed to re-inforce the stereotype of the strict Muslim father forcing his British born daughter to join him in Pakistan.
Further research however revealed something rather different – a human tragedy pointing the finger at the destructive role of the media and the outcomes of mixed marriage: the lazy stereotyping by the press that exacerbates already tense situations and the huge personal compromises sometimes required in order for a mixed marriage to succeed.
Muslim bashing is par for the course these days. Remarkably, My Name is…plays a very even hand between Umar Ahmed’s Farhan (all names have been fictionalised) and Karen Bartke’s Suzy (later Sajida), the Glasgow wife who became vilified and characterised as an `unfit’ mother. What started out as a love story between two young people turns sour under the pressure of religious orthodoxy. Suzy converts to Islam but the strictures under which she must live in the end reduce a strong woman to breakdown, the family divided and ultimately reversion to native identities. In between are the children and in Kiran Sonia Sawar’s Gaby/Ghazala you see a young girl, full of normal teenage love for life and fun torn between competing inheritances.
A lovely performance, Osment’s production in the Arcola’s small studio space conveys each individual’s painful journey with stunning simplicity and conviction in an account the lion’s share of which, so generously, is given to Suzy.
An important, provocative play, beautifully played, My Name Is…doesn’t offer any pat solutions but attempts to make a bridge of understanding across which we and future generations must try and tread a steady path. Judging by this, it ain’t goin’ be easy.