Tag Archives: Theatre

Gender bending, hijras and Macbeth


Kinnar Samaj – Becoming a Hijra

Tara Arts in association with Queen’s Hall Arts & Black Theatre Live present: Macbeth by William Shakespeare.  Post by Robert Beck.

“Bring forth men-children only” – Macbeth’s famous line to his wife in Act 1 Scene 7 who is so strong – so “manly” – that it is perceived she will only produce male children. The quote provides us with an interesting insight into Early Modern ideas about gender where “masculinity” and “femininity” seem to be more about behaviour than any particular sex characteristics.

For a play written in the 16th Century, its attitudes towards gender roles are pretty advanced, almost suggesting that our genders aren’t governed by what’s between our legs but is rather something we can choose and control through the way we dress and act.

These are the concepts directly influencing Jatinder Verma in his upcoming production set in a modern South Asian context with Robert Mountford (The Tempest, Silent Witness) taking on the role of Shakespeare’s most ruthlessly ambitious protagonist.

Jatinder Verma

“The play is full of gender”Verma tells me. His most interesting choice has been to cast the three witches as Hijras – a centuries-old strand of Indian society who identify as “third gender” and includes transsexuals, transgender, eunuchs and cross-dressers.

“I was drawn to this community as they have an ambivalent relationship to society. They exist both inside and outside.” In a world that has dug such deep trenches along gender and sexual fault lines, here we have a community of people who exist on a different gender plane and are, in many ways, perfectly cast as Shakespeare’s mystical, other-worldly beings.

Yet how does Verma and his cross-cultural take on Shakespearian tragedy intend to give a voice to this hidden community who, historically, are relegated to the realms of comic relief in literature and films?

“I can’t escape the comedy.” he says. What his production seems to be doing, however, is to not play the characters for laughs but rather to present them as they are, namely, a proud people who embrace the funny aspects of themselves while still dishing out a powerful punch when provoked.

“These characters have a sense of their own beauty and their own magnificence.” As opposed to presenting shallow and campy queens, Verma is empowering this marginalised group and showing them to be not just flamboyant clowns but rather a force to be reckoned with.

At the heart of this production is Verma’s fascination with the idea of different worlds and, central to this, the beings that inhabit them. As well as the Hijra, he views Macbeth as another variant on the migrant story.

“All migrants carry two worlds with them – the world they’re in and the world they’ve come from.” Essentially, Macbeth’s downfall is brought about because of his search for this other world. The witches remind him of magnificent Indians who ruled the world in a by-gone era and so begins his drive to become like these avaricious moguls.

Robert Mountford as Macbeth.

“We try and search for our roots but I think that the danger of this search is that it’s a try for total purity of culture which, in itself, is a road to evil because it’s a fundamentalist path.” When Macbeth succeeds in his search for the other world and acquires the crown, he is corrupted by power and becomes more and more dictatorial.

“The tragedy of Macbeth is that he wants to know more while sometimes it’s best not to.” Verma explains “There are mysteries hidden that can be terrifying if they are unfurled.”  A controversial viewpoint from the all-Asian theatre company and yet one that Verma has focused much of his work around in the past.

This production promises to be a colourful and lively offering with all the hallmarks of Verma’s previous work. Expect spectacular visuals and live music punctuating the text throughout.  Macbeth reminds us that Shakespeare can be found all over the world and not just in 16th Century England.

“This is as much my text as it is anyone else’s – I’ve just set the world differently.” Verma vehemently claims. Shakespeare’s enduring legacy is that his work is so adaptable and lends itself so beautifully to being reimagined for different contexts.

This production has set itself some very grand aspirations to live up to but, if it succeeds, it will no doubt provide audiences with a fresh way of looking at this classic text and will take us to new worlds that we may never have been to before.

Macbeth is the first production from Black Theatre Live, a pioneering consortium of eight regional theatres committed to increasing the amount of Black and Ethnic Minority theatre on the touring circuit. The show opens on February 25th in Hexham and will tour nationally until May 9th. More information and venue details can be found at:
Macbeth Tour.     

Written by guest blogger Robert Beck  (@robertjamesbeck)

Rob-blog trois


It really is a most enjoyable experience writing these posts for you. I get home from rehearsals and plonk myself down in front of my laptop and get typing. Through them I’m getting to share with you the amazing work that is being photo (29)produced in these rehearsals and to (I’d like to hope at least) tickle your fancy into coming along to the Performance/Workshops at one of our six venues across England.

Now, as I intimated in my last blog, yesterday was about laying down the voices for the multi-media bits. Working in a recording studio is always exciting. Fantasies of doing a duet of Born this Way with Gaga re-emerged out of some adolescent part of my brain – honestly, put me in front of a microphone and all sense of professionalism seems to evaporate from me.

ANYWAY, fighting these rising urges, I accompanied the team into the room where we sat down and bashed out the parts of the script that will be played over the sound system. To my great joy I actually got to record a few lines myself – perhaps not quite my dream of recording a future chart-topper but it will do…for now. Plus it’s great to have my voice used as part of the project!! One thing that really strikes me about these recordings is just how different the performers sound. Had I not watched them record the lines, I may well think that we had hired a couple of extra actors to read these parts. A real testament to the versatility of our actors who, when all’s said and done, have the challenging task of multi-rolling characters, some of whom, twice their age through to characters that have experienced next to nothing of the world.

My theatre-senses tingled when I thought about the job the directors had to do in order to make these characters distinct and recognisable without disrupting the flow of the overall piece. Lucky they had me in the room, really, so that I could watch what they did – chip in a bit – but ultimately take it all in in order for me to retell it here to you lovely readers.

The fact that we have now done the recorded bits means that the focus can shift to the live-action bits – which are my favourites! Working with Dharmesh I was able to watch the creation of two completely contrasting characters – one a shy, fay northerner with a boyfriend he met online and the other a more mature guy who has grown tired of the superficiality of the gay scene and is looking for something more real.

Perhaps the most fascinating discussion we had was on the pros and cons of the gay scene. At one point, Dharmesh asked me why some people don’t like the gay scene and it got me thinking about how LGB culture can be a real refuge for some people but can also exclude a large proportion of the community. This made me assess my own views on how inclusive places like Soho and Canal Street really are and whether there needs to be something done to tackle exclusivity and superficiality at the heart of the gay scene. Working on this project has really made me take a good, hard look at myself and the culture I have surrounded myself with and to reflect upon what needs to be changed. IMG_5826 Just another way that Beneath the Surface is challenging ideas and encouraging discussion.

The scary thing is that this marks the end of the second day of rehearsing, when we only had five days to start with. Steve made the brilliantly terrifying point that if this was a four week process we would now be very close to the end of the second week…somewhat unsettling considering how much we still have to cover. However, rather than focus on how much more we have to do, a healthier stance is to celebrate how much we’ve got done. As well as the show we’re attracting attention online – Attitude Magazine tweeted us yesterday (a personal highlight for me as I absolutely love that magazine). So progress on all fronts …how exciting!! Until the next time – stay fabulous!

Rob Beck

Sheffield Live! Interview available here…


What a drama getting to this interview yesterday… I managed to park on the other side of town. I forgot my phone in the car. Upon realising this I was a few streets away already running tight. So I took a calculated risk and left my white iphone in the driver’s seat, rather than rescuing it and getting late for my interview. The thinking was: it’s such a dank and grey day that a potential car burglar would have to get close to the window to be able to see inside. I raced across town in the rain. Sheffield Live! was not where I thought it was going to be. Firstly Paternoster Row was not where I thought it should be. It wasn’t far – it was parallel to my idea of it. Then I couldn’t find the building itself. Of course at this point one turns to one’s phone: maps, email or even makes a call. After getting directions from someone I was sent the wrong way down the road, now getting warm and breaking into a sweat in my brown woolly jumper and thick coat. After returning from the direction of the bus station, nearly via BBC Sheffield (due to misdirection by the Big Issue seller), I managed to get ‘accurate’ directions from someone at the Showroom Cinema – today’s farishta. And it was just around the corner from there. I arrived in a breathless urgency and a little cross. My emotions  plateaued in the exceedingly s_l_o_w lift. 90 seconds later we’re on air.

Sheffield Live! Interview 25 Feb 2013

In my defence I’m still getting my bearings around Sheffield…

Unsurprisingly the car window was still intact and phone sat waiting patiently for me.

Sheffield Live!


sheffield-live-logoI’ve a live radio interview at 12:10 (GMT) today with Kevin Resley on the Communities Live programme on Sheffield Live! online or 93.2FM.

1 min 11 edit


Here’s the 1 min 11 edit on the Sunrise website. 

And just to clarify, we’re using the real life interviews as ‘inspiration’ – a starting point. We’re not making verbatim theatre through the retelling of specific lives.

And what’s just sliced from the end of the interview is: whilst this project isn’t trying to change the world, it is about breathing life into this much hidden subject in Asian communities (to raise more awareness, discussion and understanding).

Radio interviews


SamosasLast week was a busy week with a few radio interviews. BBC Asian Network’s Entertainment News covered the project. It was aired as a 3-min short at the end of the news programme flagging up the project and issue of Asian homosexuality. I hadn’t done a telephone interview in a short while. I was reminded how a live or studio recorded interview is preferable where possible to a telephone recorded interview. A telephone recording when broadcast can sound flatter, and a little lacking in energy and spark. It was great to get the coverage.

I received a text on Friday from a friend:

“Random! Was buying samosas on Dudley Road. Radio was on talking about your project. It’s def out there!”

And I thought that I’d done my job. That’s the great thing about the Asian Network – a national broadcaster… It can get into all sorts of nooks and crannies as it’s listened to by so many people – especially Asians of all backgrounds.

The interview is available to listen to for another 3-days. Gaydio's Office

GaydioOn Friday I had an interview with Gaydio in Manchester – a north West community radio station. Andrew Edwards runs The Sunday Forum on Sunday mornings from 7-9am. This was a studio recorded interview. Andrew was great. He has quite a casual chatty style.

I was delightfully surprised when he asked me to pick a song to play in the middle of the interview. I chose, True Colours by Cyndi Lauper. Firstly it is a landmark song etched into my youth. I was 11 in 1986 when it was released. Cyndi certainly was ‘alternative’ yet accessible during my diet of popular chart music. And the subject felt appropriate: overcoming your inner fear and being who you are, because that’s OK, in fact it is beautiful.

For those that don’t know Cyndi Lauper is an activist for LGBT equality. She co-founded the True Colours Fund which sets out to inspire and engage all, especially straight folk in the advancement of LGBT equality.

Andrew EdwardsAndrew informs me that he played an edit of our interview on ALLFM yesterday too. This gets repeated on Tuesday 12th Febraury at 9am. This can be heard in Manchester or online. 

I recorded another telephone interview; with Kiran Kaur of Sunrise Radio, an Asian Southall-based radio station covering Greater London. The station’s plans to cover LGBT issues during a week of programming to mark LGBT History Month (February) I think very progressive and commendable. It is not yet known when the week will be broadcast but there’s another 17-days left in the month.

Keep the interviews coming…