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“The family of Britain is torn apart – Brexit has made that very apparent.” Tara Theatre’s creative director Jatinder Verma wants to be part of the healing of our society. One way he does this is by staging the too-often hidden stories of women and minorities. Under the banner “I’ll Say It Again”, the Tara Theatre has planned a month of performances to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK.
The first event is a special edition of the BBC’s The Listening Project. Hosted by Fi Glover, it is an intimate and impactful experience that fits well with Tara’s size and ethos. Verma’s inspiration is the great epic story of India, the Mahabharata, which can be translated into “The Story of the World” and yet is the story of one family. Glover begins by explaining the purpose of The Listening Project: “Other programmes can detail the political imperative but we speak in lives. Tiny moments, moats of experience… all of which combine to tell our important shared story.”
We are given Radio 4-branded blindfolds. The hour-long event was a mix of pure listening experience – with our eyes closed – of recorded conversations, and of a live discussion on stage between Glover and four women artists who each will be performing in their own production at Tara later this month. The stories ranged from panellist Dina Mousawi’s tale of a Syrian wife braving bombs and explosions to retrieve a chicken she had left behind in her refrigerator when she evacuated to an intimate conversation between a mother in Northern Ireland and her grown daughter about the word feminism.
Glover guides us with impeccable timing and direction between the blind listening and the naked-eye live panel: the experience felt like being a guest at a family party. Statements on equal pay and glass ceilings were intertwined with reminiscing about a long-dead grandmother. We listened to a daughter explain how she is affected by her mother’s experience of escaping Nazi Germany while the mother is still just happy to be alive. Actress and panellist Medhavi Patel plays out with great verve (and Indian accent) the famous line that Jayaben Desai told her sexist, racist factory manager – a line that started a whole civil rights movement. Ninety-two year-old veteran actress Eileen Page answers “absolutely not!” when Glover asks her if she’d rather be a young woman today and she exhorts women to “not lose their womanness”. We listen to a recording of a black mother and daughter talk about how Brexit unleashed racism in Britain in ways they did not imagine and the challenges of raising a black or mixed-race child in this society. And we see panellist Jules Haworth talk about the post-referendum surge in interest in Natasha Marshall’s Half-Breed, a play about race and identity.
The end of the programme was like a family celebration, with some of the women on tape present in the audience. There were hugs and clapping and food and the bar at the theatre quickly filled up. I walked back to the station with a spring in my step. Talk about healing. This is what it’s like to feel, if only temporarily, that you belong.
I’ll Say It Again! continues at Tara Theatre until June 2nd.