Stoke Newington's Tower Theatre stages A Passage to India
PUBLISHED: 15:56 31 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:18 02 February 2020
An adaptation of E.M Forster's novel, A Passage to India opens at Stoke Newington's Tower Theatre next week. Here, director Simona Hughes talks about her vision for the play
What inspired you to take on A Passage to India?
I wanted a challenge! The big epic nature of the piece, and the layers of imagery and meaning all held strong appeal. I had seen the original 2002 Shared Experience production (my friend played Ronny) and was utterly captivated by it, so it remained with me. I love this kind of fluid story-telling, in which we take audiences on a journey of shifting time and place, and in which the real and the imagined are often interchangeable. I also believe the political subtext of Forster's novel remains highly relevant to modern audiences. Racism, though more insidious and coded still pervades the world. I think some of the arrogance and the sense of entitlement that fuelled Imperial Britain in the 1920s lingers on.
What is your vision for the play?
I wanted to foreground the political messages by presenting Dr Aziz as the (in every sense) innocent, who is emotionally and psychologically destroyed in this story, and for whom we the audience always root. I wanted his anger at the British by the end of the story to feel utterly justified and monumental.In this sense Aziz is India. Max Batty, my designer, has come up with a brilliant set design that I hope will really immerse audiences in both the physical and the political world of the play- suggestive of a bold landscape of large rocks, big trees and intense heat. Using the earthy colours of a dug field that is still fertile and rich, the set consists of a hessian sack landscape representing the harvested resources taken and exported from India by the British Empire.
There's going to be an E.M Forster Q&A after the matinee on February 8. Tell us a bit about that.
We have been very fortunate in securing a panel of four E.M Forster and/or India experts for a post-show discussion in which we hope to unpick the ongoing reverberations of this seminal work as felt in today's political climate. Our experts are Professor Santanu Das, Senior Research Fellow and Professor of English at All Souls College, Oxford, Dr Hugh Stevens, senior lecturer at UCL who specialises in the history of homosexual identities, Professor Daniel Monk, Professor of Law at Birkbeck with a special interest in E. M Forster and Ash Kotak, award winning playwright of "Hijra" (Bush theatre, 2000)
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Are plays like A Passage to India bringing more diversity to the Tower?
Absolutely! There are endless possibilities for The Tower Theatre, with a new home and artistic direction focused on more diverse and inclusive programming. This began with 2019's Fix Up (the first play in Tower's 80 plus year history to feature an all-black cast). A Passage to India has offered opportunities to actors of South Asian heritage and next up is Sweat by African American playwright, Lynn Nottage, which depicts a diverse group of workers in the US Rust Belt.
The theatre has been in Stoke Newington for over a year now. How is the company settling in?
Stoke Newington is such a vibrant and culturally diverse neighbourhood and the perfect home for The Tower Theatre. We are so fortunate to be here and to have local community engagement across all our activities on both sides of the stage
What's your background?
I'm a relative 'late starter' as a theatre director, my first career was in psychology and child mental health. I've just completed a Master of Fine Arts at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama in Advanced Theatre Practice. As part of which I developed and wrote a play that will premiere in March at VAULT festival. It's called About 500 and is about female fertility and time. I've been an active member of Tower Theatre for nearly 20 years, both acting and more recently directing.
A Passage to India runs at the Tower in Northwold Road, Stoke Newington, from February 5-15. Tickets cost from £11-£12. The E.M Forster Q&A on the 8th is included in the matinee ticket. Tower, a non professional theatre, is always looking for people to get involved on stage, behind stage and front of house. For more information visit towertheatre.org.uk