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breaDth review by Aakash Wankhede

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Filmed Theatre Review


by Aakash Wankhede

The filmed performance of breaDth, based on real-life stories collected by researchers in Co-POWeR: Consortium on Practices of Well-being and Resilience in BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Families and Communities, was penned by Raminder Kaur with dramaturgy by Alda Terracciano. The play was first performed at Brady Arts Centre and for Birkbeck Arts Week in London in May 2022, followed by its filming and hybrid screening at Brunei Gallery for the SOAS South Asian Heritage Month Festival, that was then followed by an online screening with actors in July 2022 to reach out to national and international audiences.

Directed by Mukul Ahmed, breaDth was performed by the following actors who played multiple roles Rez Kabir as Ibn Khaldun, Dr Panesar; Maria Austin as Edi; Aishah Afzal as Aysha, and Nurse Tina; Eleanor Fanyinka as Bibi and Aaliyah and  Diljohn Sidhu as Reg and Bilal

The play starts with music that evokes the medieval era produced by Karen Boswall, and along with the evocative projections by Edgar Lushaju, effectively casts us back into the past.

The narrator is Ibn Khaldun, a jurist, philosopher and polymath, who narrates the event of destruction that happened due to the Great Plague that devastated millions in the fourteenth century: ’The “Black Death” is everywhere, spreading from west to east. With this comes the demonization of minorities such as Jews and Muslims.’, he says.   ‘The paranoia of past present and future’: similar to the social pathologies of the plague, COVID-19 has destroyed many lives around the world. People of all ages, gender, caste, and ethnicity have suffered due to the pandemic, some more than others, especially along the lines of social prejudices relating to race and ethnicity. This situation was exacerbated due to unequal health conditions and improper access to resources.

The problems faced by BAME communities, otherwise referred to as Global Majorities, are manifold, whether it is due to a life-threating disease or discrimination against the community. They are clearly visible with regards to the lack of resources for minority communities making their life more difficult. Children and older people are also more vulnerable than others owing to their isolation and/or fragility. For instance, with the multi-generational Khan family in breadth, there are not enough digital devices or internet access for the family to do their work including for school. Everyone has to wait for their turn to work on the laptop. With the octogenarian, Edie, we hear that she is struggling with technology, trying to retain a hold on social communication.

The lack of resources and provisions is also evident in the shortage of space in the household especially with the Khan family. Hardly any member gets privacy or space to breathe. This contrasts markedly with Edie’s house that we see later where she is left on her own in a silent house. Other times, fear of the outside, as we hear for the older Khan family members, lead them back into the safety of their small spaces.

When it comes to the hospital scene, Nurse Tina shared her experience working with the other more privileged staff where she has to face frequent taunts and derogatory comments from her colleagues even though she is doing her best to care for patients when others would rather throw them out to free up their beds. This scene makes me ponder over the apparent inequality in the medical profession, despite being viewed noble and respectable. It is further highlighted by Bibi’s comment on how some English people treat carers of colour even when they are doing their job well: “We are white which makes us all right”.

COVID-19 heavily impacted frontline workers including carers of all kinds. Many of them are from BAME communities.

The play reflects upon a pivotal issue faced by migrants from the Global South who moved to the UK in search of work - racial discrimination. Those who become carers are not immune to these preconceived prejudices and discrimination. In a conversation between the carer of Asian descent (Reg) and the white woman (Edie), you can gauge the tensions that arise from this interaction, an interaction that is not without its humorous and empathetic aspects.

The woman does not feel like she is being cared for and prefers a white caregiver, even though her caregiver is proficient and professional. She is of the opinion that migrants ‘have taken their jobs’. He knows that there are not enough people doing this kind of work due to its low income and precarious zero-hour work conditions. In fact, those on zero-hour contracts and without workers’ rights have constant fears of losing their jobs. Their worry is to earn for themselves and their families while risking their lives to help and save others.

The ‘Black Death’ of the medieval era becomes a metaphor for the ‘Deaths of Blacks’. Reports have noted the escalation of Stop and Search especially for Black and Asian men. When the police arrest the Asian carer, alleging him to be a drug dealer and robber, the layered racism from street to state is laid strikingly bare.

The audience too appreciated the play for its multiple significance that ranged from history, comedy, poetry and politics: ‘This play is multifaceted, and thought provoking‘; ‘Covid-19 is the setting to expose existing injustice’; and ‘I am acutely aware of the intersection of COVID with black lives matter, highlighting racism, but these [stories] really moved me to expand my focus to the frontline workers experiencing racism too’.  

The condition of care and carers was a strong chord of resonance: ‘One thing that struck me - what can we do for carers more to support them? What do they need the most, you know whether they’re caring in the home, which is so very prison like and then outside of the home. What is it that they need?  I think this play brought out all those different layers’. 

One person pointed out how ‘very insightful and enlightening the play was’. Others highlighted what they learnt from it: ‘I thought it was incredibly engaging and emotive, the connection between the historical and the present worked so well, the actors did a fantastic job, and - in particular, the scene with Reg and Edie - did continue to play on my mind afterwards.’

Another audience member noted: ‘My goal for viewing this play was to grow in my awareness of multicultural issues and marginalized populations. The play achieved this for me. The focus of loneliness in the elderly community, as well as the racism experienced within healthcare, were two dimensions of awareness that I have not given much attention to. ‘

One actor in a workshop said: ‘This is a subject that I haven’t really thought about before, in terms of how a carer might endure racism, it makes me think of my grandmothers. One grandmother was a nurse... and my other grandma was a carer and these are things that they probably would have endured back in the 60’s or 70’s, possibly 80’s. But this is modern day, and to know that these are real stories…and to know things like this are still going on, even during the pandemic, for me, I find this quite eye-opening.’

From several perspectives, while exploring how people are feeling suffocated through a combination of disease and prejudice, the play opened alot of eyes. It is a hard-hitting drama that is not to be missed.

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