Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Sudha Bhuchar: Final Farewell and Evening Conversations

By | Published on Friday 16 July 2021

Sudha Bhuchar will be a familiar name to our readers, given the acclaim and recognition she’s achieved in her career thus far; as an actor; a playwright; as the founder of her own company Bhuchar Boulevard; and as co-founder, with Kristine Landon-Smith, of Tamasha.

Despite the pandemic and lockdown she has been quite busy lately, writing ‘Final Farewell’, an audiowalk currently being presented via Tara Theatre, and preparing to perform her own play ‘Evening Conversations’ at Jermyn Street Theatre later this month.

I spoke to Sudha to find out more about her projects, her past, and the future.

CM: You’ve got two projects that are current / imminent, so let’s start by talking about each of those. Firstly, ‘Final Farewell’ via Tara Theatre recently began its run. It’s a rather different kind of production in that it’s an audio walk. Can you tell us what audiences can expect from that? How does it work and where does the walk take us?
SB: ‘Final Farewell’ is a reflective and poignant piece that is also joyful and a celebratory tribute. It is a curated experience which has at its heart a selection of six stories that have been recorded by actors and designed to be listened to during a walk in Wandsworth along the River Wandle.

Audiences will be greeted at Tara Theatre to be briefed and given any information or listening equipment if they’ve requested it. They will then embark on a self-guided walk while they listen to the characters talk about their lives, loves and their passing.

There are opportunities to sit and take in the environment – a park, playground, burial ground, church, riverside path – while listening, and indeed people can choose to remain in and round Tara Theatre to listen if preferred.

At the end of the walk, audiences come back to the theatre to experience the finale together in the theatre itself where there is a beautifully designed set by Shankho Choudhuri, who has created a Tree Of Life installation where the audience can listen to the voices of the real people whose testimonies inspired the piece, write a tribute to their own lost loved ones and experience a small exhibition.

CM: Whose stories do we hear?
SB: We hear the stories of loss that were shared by people who came forward about their loved ones, who now talk to us from the Afterlife.

There is Shahin, a gay Iranian photographer who talks about his last weeks when his cup was “full” and he was drinking the “aliveness” of life. Baby Han tells of her mother’s experience to the pulse of Travis Green’s ‘You Made A Way’. Rahman and Alam, two first generation muslim men from India/Pakistan, feed the pigeons as they look back on their lives and try to comfort their sons from beyond.

Then there’s the formidable Ann, aka ‘Grandma Hat’, who lived according to her maxims and nailed her colours to the mast. Jassie, who feels like royalty when she discovers the contents of the archive that Anmol is making of her life. and Oberon, the pug who shares his ordinary ‘unexamined’ life with his bestie Lisa.

CM: So the ideas for each piece started with conversations with the public?
SB: Yes, we put a public call out for people to come forward if they wanted to share their experiences of loss during COVID. I then interviewed them and recorded their stories, with their permission, and the ideas came from a deep listening of those testimonies.

I would often start with a title that emerged. For instance, Shahin’s story is called ‘Busseh Gondeh’, which is Iranian for ‘Big Kiss’, and that is how Shahin’s friend David always ended their text messages. Another title is ‘The Truth Seekers’, which comes from the testimony shared by someone who lost his father and said he was a Sufi, an active agnostic, a ‘truth seeker’.

The titles were a way of distilling the testimonies leading to the fiction I created, which is embedded in verbatim testimonies that were shared.

CM: Now can you tell us about ‘Evening Conversations’ which is on at Jermyn Street later this month? What is it about?
SB: ‘Evening Conversations’ is a warm-hearted extended monologue inspired by banter with my millennial sons and my life as a middle-aged multicultural mother, living a ‘squeezed middle’ life in leafy Wimbledon.

CM: What themes are explored through the play? Is it dramatic or comedic?
SB: As I say in the piece itself, ‘Evening Conversations’ is not a play with high stakes and a narrative thread. Nor is it a misery memoir. It is funny and poignant as it captures the witty conversations I have with my sons as we share our lives and dreams. How my immigrant life that spanned three continents differs from their lives in middle class Wimbledon.

CM: What was the inspiration for it?
SB: It literally was my sons who inspired it and how they pick me up for my ‘immigrant’ views and how they feel more of a sense of belonging in the UK, how I am multilingual by osmosis and how they feel speaking English is the only currency they need. And yet their desire to explore their heritage drives them from a place of confidence, while they feel let down as young people. We talk about everything from diversity to well-being, feminism, and politics to inheriting shit genes and food.

CM: You’re performing it yourself, aren’t you? Did you envisage being the performer when you were writing it?
SB: This is a rare piece that I was not expecting to write or perform. My older son’s name means ‘Evening Conversations’ and I thought that was a great title, as I’ve always ‘magpied’ my sons’ words in my work and it grew from these small fragments of conversations. At the same time, I was feeling like I rarely get the chance to bring my ‘full’ self into my work. So, it grew from there cumulatively and is ever evolving. I see it more like a ‘sharing’ with the audience rather than me ‘performing’.

CM: Can we talk a bit more about you, now? I’m sure our readers are familiar with your work as an actor, writer, and co-founder of Tamasha, and founder of Bhuchar Boulevard. But what do you feel the highlights of your career have been thus far?
SB: There have been so many highlights it’s hard to pick. The longevity of my play ‘Child Of The Divide’, about a lost child during the partition of India – also inspired by my boys. Its revival in 2017 launched Bhuchar Boulevard. The fact that I’ve endured as an actor/writer and made my own work, as well as offering a space for others’ careers to be nurtured and launched.

CM: Was this the career you always aspired to? Did you grow up wanting to work in the arts?
SB: I am an accidental theatre maker as I graduated with a BA in Maths and Sociology at Roehampton Institute. A chance meeting with Jatinder Verma and Tara Arts has led to this scenic route in my life of a career in the arts.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
SB: My ambitions are to bring to fruition stories from our communities that are yet untold. To have challenging and interesting acting work that employs my full self, including my Asian languages like Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu, which is now finally beginning to happen. And to stay healthy and ‘present’ and in the moment and cultivate a better work/life balance.

CM: The industry has suffered, of course, this past year or so – how have pandemic times affected you?
SB: Like for everyone, life has been a ‘corona coaster’ which has affected my mental health at times. We had quite a strict lockdown in our family which was challenging.

I was lucky to be working on my Wellcome Collection / Revolution Arts project, ‘Touchstone Tales’, exploring the theme of ‘touch’ with communities in Bury Park, Luton, and the body of work can still be seen online, as well as Theatre Of Debate’s ‘Covid And Me’. Both felt really timely and important

CM: What’s coming up next for you? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
SM: My company Bhuchar Boulevard has managed to secure the rights to Sita Brahmachari’s award winning debut novel ‘Artichoke Hearts’, and I will be working on an adaptation of that for family audiences. And a film I acted in called ‘Into Dust’ – filmed in late 2019 – by Oscar winning documentary director Orlando Von Einsiedel will be coming out soon. Acting work seems to be on the horizon too finally.

‘Final Farewell’ takes place via Tara Theatre until 31 Jul, see the venue website here for info and to book.

Sudha performs ‘Evening Conversations’ as part of a double bill with ‘Life Laundry’ at Jermyn Street Theatre on 28 Jul, see this page here.

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