- British Asian Theatre: Dramaturgy, Process and Performance
Dominic Hingorani’s monograph on British Asian theatre provides the analysis of Jatinder Verma, founder of Tara Arts and a major figure in contemporary British theatre, that is long overdue—and awaited. The virtue of Hingorani’s methodology, however, is that this treatment of Verma is embedded in scholarship that conceptualizes and contextualizes interconnected developments in British Asian theatre with precision and depth. Other key figures emerge—like Naseem Kahn, author of The Arts Britain Ignores in 1976, and Kristine Landon-Smith of Tamasha Theatre Company—and these balance the focus on Verma that carries the first half of the book. More important, Hingorani takes theatre companies as the study’s central analytical unit; Verma and his “Binglish” productions take such pride of place because Hingorani so richly documents the work of Tara Arts. [End Page 227] Writing the history of a theatre company, as I’ve argued elsewhere about British alternative theatre, constitutes a key historiographical move. It addresses the field of production in a way that tracks the nexus of performers, authors, directors, texts, venues, funding, and cultural reception, allowing for the discussion of dramatic texts and individual artists while writing what Foucault calls effective history.
Hingorani aims to document—to “make visible”—the work of the British Asian theatre as he writes in his conclusion, but otherwise he does not spend any time on historiographical theory. Instead, his theoretical frame comes primarily from postcolonial theory. His introduction employs the metaphor of “mapping” British Asian theatre, and in it he has strong passages of the concept of hybridity, the issue of color-blind casting, and Bharucha’s idea of “intracultral” work as manifested in Tamasha Theatre’s mission. One of the implications of Hingorani’s frame that could be pursued further is that British Asian work stands as a significant alternative to the “intercultural” theatre trends of the late twentieth century, complicating issues of nationality and authenticity in a more emplaced way than the Asian-inspired work of Peter Brook or Ariane Mnouchkine, for instance.
The central section of the book proceeds chronologically, providing two chapters on the work of Tara Arts between 1976 and 1996, two chapters on Tamasha’s oeuvre between 1989 and 2008, and one chapter on Kali Theatre Company’s founding and expansion from 1990–2007. Hingorani then returns to finish the timeline on Tara’s work from 1997–2007 and provides a coda in a final chapter about four notable British Asian playwrights. This time-based arc serves the useful purpose of anchoring the reader historically, while allowing comparative observation about events happening simultaneously or in sequence between the three companies, as well as within British theatre overall. These contrasts prove especially important given the way that Tamasha and Tara take different approaches in dialogue with British Asian communities. The comparative chronology also highlights how Kali emerges in part because British Asian artists had some foundations to stand on due to the work in the previous decade. Kali’s savvy becomes visible through the many pictures included in the book that demonstrate, for instance, a differential in visual sophistication between Tara’s initial productions and Kali’s first works some fifteen years later. The flatness and simplicity of the pictures from Tara’s early days show much less dynamic stage pictures and less consciousness on the part of the company about the image put forth, while Kali’s pictures are vibrant and actively framed. This distinction can be seen in publicity materials of other British alternative theatre companies too; even by 1990, developments in desktop publishing and photo processing meant that even a smaller, alternative company could put out photos and promotional material of much higher impact.
After the company histories, the last chapter about the playwrights both works and doesn’t work. Hingorani discusses the plays produced by the companies throughout the study, dealing with the problem of content crisply; he succinctly [End Page 228] sketches a play’s concerns and the patterns it represents in dramaturgical...