Angie Johnson asks playwright Sudha Bhuchar about her cross-cultural project
For a brief period in 2006 the news headlines were filled with the story of a young girl allegedly kidnapped by her Pakistani Muslim father in a ‘tug of love’ conflict with her Scottish mother Louise Campbell.
The story of Molly/Misbah was splashed over a media circus more intent on airing their prejudices than looking into the facts of the case. The acclaimed theatre company Tamasha is currently on tour with a new play exploring the real issues behind this sad domestic tale in their latest production My Name Is… I asked playwright Sudha Bhuchar what drew her to this almost forgotten news story. “Actually it was formulating in my mind for several years. After reading an excellent article by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy in the Guardian detailing the real background to the events it seemed to me that the emotional truth of what had happened had never been aired. This was not the Islam versus the West narrative that was represented at the time — in many ways it was a unique Scottish love story that began in early 1980s Glasgow — the story of a love that had sadly gone awry.”
Something about the story so intrigued Bhuchar that she flew to Pakistan to meet father and daughter and visited the mother in Stornaway. “They are all very good people, they had tried to make things work, began their marriage with all the right intentions, but circumstances were against them. I was also struck by how much love is there still.”
Bhuchar has created My Name Is… from her separately taped conversations with Molly/Misbah, mother Louise and father Sajad. “They were very open when I talked to them about what had happened,” she recalls. These testimonies, delivered verbatim by the actors in the play, describe events from the different perspectives of each protagonist, cut together and overlapping to present the story in all its complexity.
As she explains, “in my play, even though the characters are not in the same room, they still try to invade each other’s stories with their different, sometimes contradictory, versions of events”.
I note the names of the characters have been changed and asked why she had made that choice. “It took me a long time to decide how to approach this — there is a lot of responsibility attached to creating a drama piece out of the lives of real people. By changing the names things could be slightly distanced, which allowed me greater creative freedom.”
Out of this material comes an unusual cross-racial love story that comes to a head when 12-year-old Gaby disappears from her home in Scotland. The media assumption that her father has abducted her is only silenced when it emerges that Gaby has chosen to spend her life in Pakistan. Now calling herself Ghazala, much to her mother Suzy’s distress, she had turned her back on ‘Gaby’ and her life in the West. This production is a perfect fit for theatre company Tamasha who specialise in investigating personal stories of cultural difference and connection to create theatre that has the multiple narratives and global perspectives of contemporary Britain’s evolving culture. Their mission is to create art from distinctive intracultural practice that celebrates individual complexity.
Since it was founded in 1989 by Bhuchar and Kirstine Landon-Smith, the company has played a major part in the widening out of Asian culture into the mainstream with hit shows such as East is East, Strictly Dandia, Two Weddings and a Funeral, and A Fine Balance.
Sudha Bhuchar is much in demand for both her acting and writing talents across many different media. In addition to her prodigious radio and theatre work she co-wrote the short film Midnight Feast, which was screened at the 11th Raindance Film Festival, and The House Across The Street for BBC TV. She is currently filming the third series of Ruth Jones’ single-parent sitcom Stella for Sky 1. Over the years visits by Tamasha Theatre Company have always been eagerly awaited by Oxford audiences and this touring production should excite.
My Name Is...
Pegasus, East Oxford
September 12 and 13, 7.30pm
Tickets: Call 01865 812150 or visit pegasustheatre.org.uk