University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Shakespeare and the Re/Vision of Indian Heritage in the Postcolonial British Context

Cochrane, Claire ORCID: (2016) Shakespeare and the Re/Vision of Indian Heritage in the Postcolonial British Context. In: Performing Shakespeare in India: Exploring Indianness, Literature and Culture. SAGE Publications, New Delhi, pp. 60-76. ISBN eBook: 9789351509738 Hardcover: 9351509745

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As part of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a production of Much Ado About Nothing set in India. Shakespeare’s Messina in sixteenth century Italy was transposed to twenty-first century Delhi and with a company of actors who were all of Indian heritage. The casting of individual British Asian actors in mainstream UK productions of Shakespeare is no longer unusual. What was unprecedented here, however, was that not only was the entire cast ‘Asian’ but the director was not, as is standard practice, a leading member of the white British theatrical establishment. Instead the director, Iqbal Khan, is the son of a Pakistani father who migrated to England in the 1960s. I use the term ‘Indian heritage’ with great caution conscious that what began under the British Raj in nineteenth century India led through subsequent economic imperatives and exigencies, and political schism to a history of migratory patterns which means that today’s British Asian population is a complex demographic construct representing numerous different languages and cultural and religious affiliations. The routes which brought those actors to play imagined Indian Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon in July 2012 were many and various.
I explore in this chapter the way in which that complexity of heritage has been brought to bear on the revisioning of Shakespeare by British Asian theatre makers operating outside the theatrical mainstream. In general because of the social, economic and institutional challenges facing British Asian theatre artists, the number of independent professional companies is comparatively small and for the most part, their work has focused on creating drama which interrogates thorny questions of identity formation and contemporary cultural practices within the ‘new’ British Asian communities. Nevertheless for artists born and/or educated in the UK the Western classical canon, including of course Shakespeare, is as much part of their heritage as the classical Indian narratives and performance traditions which so powerfully evoke collective memories of the lost ‘home’ of their elders.
By far the most consistent engagement with Shakespeare has been seen in the work of Tara Arts which was the first British Asian theatre company set up in 1977. The artistic director Jatinder Verma brings his own ‘transformed and translated’ heritage as an East African-born, Punjabi-speaking, English-educated, Indian migrant to the UK to plays as diverse as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Troilus and Cressida , The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice. I discuss examples of Tara productions in the light of the way Shakespeare’s plays have been used to forge both creative synergies between parallel cultures and provide a means of addressing the ontological ruptures and dislocations associated with the colonial past.

Item Type: Book Section
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Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: Shakespeare, India, theatre, British Asian, Tara Arts
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
P Language and Literature > PE English
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Arts
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Depositing User: Claire Cochrane
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2016 14:04
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2020 17:13

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