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Tara Art’s Macbeth brings something wicked

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Jatvinder Verma

Many call him the Godfather of British Asian Theatre. His tireless commitment to Asian theatre in the UK has been commendable….writes Anjana Parikh

Meet Jatinder Verma, the founder of South London-based Tara Arts, is now ready for his next play ‘Macbeth’ which brings  the tale of a modern-day UK setting with an Asian flavour on March 3 at Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield.

Jatvinder Verma
Jatinder Verma

“All my actors in this play are Asians. There’s no diversion from the original Shakespeare’s Macbeth; not just the story even the words are the same,” said Verma, the artistic director of the play.

Born to Indian parents, Verma moved from Kenya to Britain in 1968. Later, he found it a racist hotbed. He fought back by setting up the UK’s first Asian theatre group—Tara Arts.

An explosive brew of treachery, ambition and passion sets a powerful Asian family off on a path to bloody self-destruction as they find their empire under threat in this new production from Tara Arts, in association with Queen’s Hall Arts and Black Theatre Live.

This fresh and contemporary version of the classic Shakespeare tragedy sees the iconic three witches reimagined as ‘Hijras’ – a little-known strand of Indian society made up of transsexuals, transgender people, eunuchs and cross-dressers; and stars Robert Mountford (Much Ado About Nothing, Royal Shakespeare Company) as Macbeth, with Shaheen Khan (Rafta Rafta, National Theatre; Bend It Like Beckham) as Lady Macbeth.

Talking about the play, Verma who co-directed ‘Kanjoos’ in 2013, said: “The play is less about the king or the nature of rule. It’s more about the ambition and the consequences.

A scene from Macbeth
A scene from Macbeth

“Every family has an ambition and jealousy and in unfortunate cases, there’s murder as well. In an Asian family, there’s a clear sense of hierarchy. When this hierarchy is destroyed, chaos takes over.”

Delving deeper into the hierarchy, and citing an example, he said, Asian parents are ready to slap their children. “This shows we can be physical in our homes,” said the famous Britain’s theatre director.

Asked how the stories of Asian families can be related to ‘Macbeth’, Verma who has given successful performances along with passion and drive for over 40 years, said: “Like in ‘Macbeth’, it seems to me that these days, there’s a desire of pure culture in Asian families. Pure culture has always paved way to evil.”

Interestingly, he has used ‘hijras’ instead of witches in this cross-cultural take on ‘Macbeth’. “Modern British Asians have heard stories of glorious pasts of India and Pakistan but when they go to these countries and see ‘hijras’, it’s different, “ Verma said adding, “They (hijras) are from a different realm just like the witches in ‘Macbeth’.”

Verma, who also directed ‘The Black Album’ an adaptation of renowned writer Hanif Kureshi’s novel, said: “Ambition is not a problem but if it’s taken too far in search of purity then you’ll end up tarnishing your hands with blood. Blood will have blood as in ‘Macbeth’. And our play is a reflection of the world we live in today where everybody is in search of purity.”