Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Hannah Kumari: ENG-ER-LAND

By | Published on Friday 24 September 2021

As you all surely know, because we keep telling you about it, Camden People’s Theatre’s Sprint Festival 2021 is ongoing, and there are still lots of shows to take in this coming week.

One that leapt out at us in particular was ‘ENG-ER-LAND’, a show written and performed by Hannah Kumari, which was first performed earlier this year.

To find out more about the play, and about Hannah, I arranged a quick chat.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the premise of ‘ENG-ER-LAND’? What story does it tell?
HK: ‘ENG-ER-LAND’ is set in 1997 and tells the story of fourteen year old football fan Lizzie travelling to a match alone, after her friends stand her up.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
HK: It explores themes around football, identity and what it means to be English, as well as celebrating 90s nostalgia.

CM: What inspired you to create a show focusing on this subject matter?
HK: I am a lifelong football fan and was inspired to make a show about my experiences in the hope of starting a positive dialogue about diversity.

CM: Are there biographical elements to the play?
HK: Yes, the show is inspired by my experiences growing up as a mixed race teenager in the midlands in the 90s and attending Coventry City games, although it is not strictly autobiographical.

CM: Was this show put together during the lockdown?
HK: Yes, I started writing the play in June 2020, inspired by some specific events in London where I saw supposed football fans behaving in an antisocial way. I was supported by theatre company WoLab to write my first Arts Council bid to R&D the show up to its first public performances at Jermyn Street Theatre in June 2021

CM: How did the pandemic affect you, in terms of your output? How did you manage through the locked down periods?
HK: It was hard living in a small flat in central London with no outdoor space and not being able to get to exercise classes, which is something that really helps my mental health and well being – I didn’t really connect with online classes. Financially I struggled at the start but was lucky to get some support from orgs including the Fleabag Fund, Royal Variety Charity and Equity Benevolent.

Artistically I didn’t do much until around June, when I started attending some online writing courses and workshops, many of which experienced artists kindly offered for free, before starting to write ‘ENG-ER-LAND’ and submitting my first Arts Council bid. It was around this time that I was made a Creative Associate of Jermyn Street Theatre, which was another turning point for me. The pandemic has changed the course of my career in a way, as I started to focus more on making my own work rather than acting.

CM: Can we go back a bit, now? How did you come to be pursuing a career in the arts? Was this what you always wanted to do?
HK: Yes, to be honest, it is what I have always wanted to do. I was in school plays growing up, then Coventry Youth Operetta Group, where we did musicals. I did a BA Hons in Acting at Bretton Hall, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore, and have worked in the industry in one way or another since then.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
HK: I plan to register a limited company and continue making my own interdisciplinary theatre shows, collaborating with other companies and artists. I’d like to tour my work internationally and develop my skills as a writer for both stage and screen.

CM: What hopes do you have for ‘ENG-ER-LAND’, going forward?
HK: We have a national tour booked for Spring 2022 of fourteen venues, including the North East, the Midlands and the South West, where I am now based. I hope to have the play published and then I’d love to consider a TV adaptation and an international tour.

CM: What’s coming up next for you? Do you have any other work in the pipeline?
HK: I’m currently rehearsing my next show ‘Spinning Wheel’ with two other performers, after I was given a £10k commission from Bristol-based company The Wardrobe Ensemble to develop and present it at The Theatre On The Downs. It is an immersive meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous with puppetry and dance. We’ll be performing it straight after ‘ENG-ER-LAND’ in Bristol, 30 Sep – 2 Oct.

‘ENG-ER-LAND’ is on as part of Sprint 2021 at Camden People’s Theatre. See the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.

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