Young performers tackle tough topics in Castaways at the Belgrade Theatre
Rising stars from the West Midlands are set to shine in a powerful new drama from Mandala Theatre Company, coming to the Belgrade Theatre this spring for its only local tour dates. Running in Coventry on 17 and 18 May, Aitha Sen Gupta’s Castaways poses urgent questions about how young people in the UK relate to their communities today, against a backdrop of ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
Born in the same town on the exact same day, teenagers Sam, Asha and Kieran have been inseparable since they were tiny. Having grown up together, this close-knit trio continue to look out for each other both at home and at school, until one day, a shocking event blows their world apart – and their friendship with it.
Developed through a series of conversations and creative workshops with young people, this challenging new play explores the nature of friendship, trauma and tribal loyalties in a neighbourhood where the blue touch paper is just waiting to be lit. Working in areas where radicalisation, urban separation and division are causes for particular concern, Mandala Theatre consider why so many BAME teens feel disconnected from their communities, attempting to unpack what might motivate a decision to go and fight – or marry a fighter – in Syria.
Following training at London’s Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and a stint as Laertes in The Young Shakespeare Company’s 2017 tour of Hamlet, Birmingham-born Jonathan Clarke-Hesson now stars in Castaways as Sam. Joining him is Birmingham Ormiston Academy and Wolverhampton Central Youth Theatre alumnus Andy Greaves, who co-stars as Kieran following previous appearances as Ste in Beautiful Thing at Birmingham’s Old Joint Stock, and playing multiple roles in Heading in the Right Direction for Gazebo Theatre. Yasmin Ahansulla completes the cast as Asha. Originally from Finland, she trained in World Performance at London’s East 15 Acting School, and has since gone on to star in a variety of stage and screen productions, including Pinocchio for West Midlands Children’s Theatre.
Forming the second part Mandala Theatre’s Place, Identity and Belonging trilogy, Castaways is directed by the company’s Artistic Director Yasmin Sidhwa and written by the award-winning Aitha Sen Gupta.
Having made her professional debut aged just 21 when her first play What Fatima Did premiered at Hampsted Theatre in 2009, Gupta has gone on to enjoy considerable acclaim, winning the International Achievement Recognition Award for Best Playwright and being shortlisted for Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Award in 2016. In 2014, her play State Red explored police racism at Hampstead Downstairs, and in 2015, her third play Counting Stars opened at the Edinburgh Fringe, before being staged at Theatre Royal Stratford East, where she served as writer-in-residence from 2016-17.
Newly established in Oxford, Mandala Theatre is a diversity-led, community-interest company using the power of live performance to bring people together and change young lives. As well as nurturing young talent from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, it works to develop exciting and visceral new work, bringing previously unheard stories into the heart of the communities from which they emerge. Its plays act as catalysts for dialogue and debate, the results of which are fed back into research used to influence government policy decisions on community cohesion and social justice.
Titled Dis-connected, its second year has involved close collaboration with staff from the Institute for Research in Education at the University of Bedfordshire, to ensure that young people’s stories and voices are central to its latest play. During its first year, the company worked with writer Nadia Davids, as well as academic researchers and young asylum seekers to explore the theme Outside-In. Next year’s project, Postcode Poverty, will look at urban planning and infrastructures, and their impact on alienation, exclusion and violence.