(pic by Dhammika)
So there I was, sitting in Camden People's theatre, about to watch this trilogy of plays about mixed identity. I'm no great theatre lover to be honest. Obviously I've seen the classics like Lion King, Starlight Express and Mamma Mia, but plays aren't high up on my list of things I must do.
I was there because Ian's Aunt was here, the play was about mixed identity and it had Nimmi Harasgama in it, who I hadn't seen or met before, but I knew of.
On this occasion instead of being early because I was afraid of being late and had over compensated, I was early because I had intended to get the train up and do some strolling around, a bit of shopping, browsing and general mooching. My plan went pear shaped and after an hour of standing on my little local station platform I gave up, got in my car and drove. The resulting time of arrival was too late for mooching and shopping as all the shops were closed, yet still about two hours before the play started. As a man who likes adventure and trying new things out I was pleased that my excessive earliness was for a new reason.
I went to the theatre first, just to recce things. As I opened the theatre door I almost ended up slamming it into someone's face. I did the gallant thing and held it open for her, then I walked in behind her. A win win situation; I could be gallant and also check out her bum without her knowing. The girl turned out to be Nimmi, I introduced myself and said the usual Sri Lankan hello thing, that one where you say who you're a friend of and marvel at the whole six degrees of separation thing, the fact that for the average Sri Lankan it reduces to about one degree, two on rare occasions.
We went our separate ways and about an hour and a half later I was back in the foyer of the place milling around with more Sri Lankans than you can fit in a private bus. One of the first people I met was old Dhammika himself, him of Thinkfreed. We chatted and I met his wife and, in that degrees of separation way again, we found that we're half brothers or something like that.
The time came to take our seats, so all were ushered into the theatre. Camden People's Theatre is a lovely and basic feeling place, a fringe thing that is vastly underfunded but evidently doing a fine job under difficult circumstances. It's fair to say that we took our chairs, rather than seats. They were nice chairs with a little bit of padding, a back and everything. On the stage were two shopping trolleys. One was covered with bits of paper that had names of Sri Lankan specialities written on them. Things like mutton, buriyani, vadai and what nots.
The other trolley had similar pieces of paper but with names of Carribean things on them. I can't remember the things to be honest and my knowledge of those parts isn't good enough to make stuff up, but probably things like Bounty bars and the like. After about ten minutes I realised that the trolleys were most likely props for the play. My conclusion was aided by the chap, the director I think, who came on and talked a bit about the forthcoming trilogy.
You know something, I'll tell you a secret here. I've always been an ardent admirer of chaps and girls who can get up and talk confidently and calmly in front of people. As a salesperson I've done a bit of it myself but frankly I crap myself every time. This fellow got up there and chatted to the audience as coolly and calmly as if he was having a casual tete a tete with his Mum, not that I know his Mum. If she's anything like mine then the whole simile goes flying out of the window quicker than you can say "scary Sri Lankan mother". Give me a drumkit to sit behind any day.
The first play was the one with our heroine, Nimmi, in it. It began with her and the other lady, also an actress, doing some shopping in a supermarket. Cleverly they made use of the trolleys for this bit. Nimmi was very Sri Lankan in appearance. Her hair was up in a bun and she had a sari of sorts on. The other woman was wearing what I must assume is Jamaican "street" clothing and their respective acting made it clear that they were in their own separate worlds. On catching sight of each other they both took off bits of garment, changed hairstyle, shuffled around the contents of their trolley and did everything possible to make their appearance as "British" as possible for the other. They both mouthed the word "fuck" as they caught sight of the other too. A nice touch for the less educated in the audience, like me.
The ensuing twenty minutes or so was captivating and eye catching. They started and continued a dialogue that was based on their own lives. At times the dialogue became a monologue and the other person froze, or perhaps just forgot their lines, and the featured artist spoke as if in their head. One of the most captivating things for me was the way they did so many accents. Nimmi presented us with strong Sri Lankan accents, with middle class English accents, some Sinhala and some Tamil. It was all authentic but I can't claim to be an expert in Tamil and Sinhala accents.
The piece was a reflection on the mixed identity of each of the artistes, of the feelings, frustrations and many different accents each of us mixed race kids are used to and sometimes not so used to. I'm all too familiar with the feelings, being mostly a drummer but also a blogger.
It led nicely into the next piece, performed by a mixed Hong Kong Chinese English lady called Christina. This was less direct in its visual references than the trolley one. Where the trolley one showed people in a supermarket with very clear and vivid imagery this one left more to the imagination with visual metaphors and similes that forced us, the audience, to come to our own conclusions about what was going on.
It told the story of how Christina was brought up in an apartment in which her English Father and Chinese Mother would often communicate through her as they had little in common in the way of language. It was a solo piece and Christina did lots of writhing, that looked particularly painful as well as some painting on the floor. The painting on the floor was a bit of a technical issue as most of us couldn't see what was going on, only that there was some floor based crouching down activity happening.
We discovered, when it was projected up on the wall as pictured above, that she was drawing the image, half in Cantonese or Mandarin (sorry but I can't recollect which it is) and half in English. At the beginning of the piece it said "I am not English" with the equivalent and opposite statement on the other side of the image in the other language. It's confusing to explain it in writing but I reckon I just might have got there.
Towards the end of the piece as the actress talked us through her thought patterns and development she did some more crouched down floor painting. The image changed to one in which she had crossed out the word "not" and what we all assumed to be the same on the other side of the world. It hit me like a bargepole, one that hit me sideways and not just on its end. More of a resounding smack than a painful prod. It's the exact way I've been thinking for the last few years. Not the Chinese bit, the Sri Lankan and British bit.
For so long I felt I was neither a Brit nor a Sri Lankan yet now I truly feel both, with a sense of abundance that I'm proud of. It's taken me many years to get here but I like it now. I'm brown, I've got a Sarf London drawl, I'm Sri Lankan and I'm British and I'm ok with that.
There was a bit of shuffling around with the sets, though there wasn't much in the way of sets to shuffle, then the next playlet started. I must admit that it was bit too ethereal for me, but the salsa dancing performed by the leading lady was startlingly spectacular, which was good enough to keep my eyes rivetted to the stage. I was told afterwards that it was about Guantanamo Bay, which made things clearer, but it was the first two pieces that caught me.
Nimmi Harasgama's one pulled me in with its acting, its defined and vivid imagery and the feeling of lightness it left me with. Christina's piece stuck with me because it felt as if it had been written about my mind and my mindset. It felt heavy instead of light, but it was a nice heaviness I was left with. Probably like a chap would feel after eating too many shuttlecocks not like that heaviness caused by way too much rice and dhall.
A load of us ended up in a nearby pub, then an Indian restaurant, then a quick drive home after dropping Old Aunt Onetruecoolguy and her husband where they were staying. I think it's safe to say that a good night was had by all.
Maybe I could do this thespian thing a bit more!