Interview With…Raminder Kaur 

We chatted to the playwright about Breadth heading to the Omnibus Theatre from the 16th May until the 3rd June.

Hi Raminder, how does it feel to be having breaDth come to the Omnibus Theatre? I’m thrilled! Can’t wait to see everything come together. We’ve been working on this play
for about two years now, trying to make sure it’s a riveting story while reflecting people’s lives in the pandemic. It’s like putting a massive jigsaw together and the final piece is ready
to be dropped. Three years on, now is a good time to reflect on the upheavals we all went through due to this COVID-19 virus. The Omnibus Theatre is a fantastic place to do this with this multi- media play.

Could you tell me what breaDth is about? breaDth is about the reality and surreality of the pandemic years. It’s about how people in precarious positions coped with all the changes and challenges, paranoia and prejudice that they had to go through – like a multigenerational family trying to cope with one laptop to serve all their needs; being laid off, forced to go part-time, or do what seems like endless overtime to make ends meet; post-ICU delirium where reality merges with fantasy, and dreams turn into nightmares; left alone and not being able to hug each other; caring and not caring about each other; the importance of food and football; stories of past and present colliding into each other; plastic, plastic, plastic! This is all woven into the story of a couple of families living in the ‘ghost town’ of Coventry.

How did the idea for the play come about? The script is based on interviews by researchers in the Consortium of Practices of Wellbeing and Resilience among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities that was funded by the ESRC (Co-POWeR As the scriptwriter, it was quite a mammoth task to capture the themes that were coming out without getting bogged down by them for the flow of the story. There’s a lot of stories waiting to get the oxygen of publicity; and we can be their channels. We did a script reading and R&D for those who gave us their interviews last year. They gave us feedback as well as endorsing the play as ‘very powerful’. We managed to get funds from the Arts Council and the University of Sussex to put it on as a full production this year. In the final script, there’s funny bits, sad parts and evocative moments when we move between time-spaces through movement, music and visuals. One script consultant said it’s ‘a bit like East is East’ but with a bit more relevance and creative edge, I hope.

How has it been seeing the play transform from the page to the stage? Excited and inspired. We’ve started rehearsals now and getting ultra-creative. The play is bigger than any one of us; and I’m looking forward to engaging both mainstream and minority communities. We all went through the pandemic together, but we’ve all got different memories and experiences to relate. I tried to capture as much of this from interviews as I could without losing the plot! And we have a superb team and cast to make them come to life on the stage – Érin Geraghty, Rez Kabir, Suzanne Kendall, Dave Kukadia, Kareem Nasif, and Celine Shamdasani.

How did you go about putting breaDth together? The script is based on interviews with people about their lives during the pandemic in England. They are stirred and shaken and distilled into fictionalised characters. I worked with feedback from the R&D and two dramaturgs to develop the story. One of the main characters, Tahir, is a carer for those who do not care for him, and a non-carer for those who do care for him – his family. Aysha is trying to look after two elders, three kids while trying to work part-time on a laptop shared with the family. Edie is an enthralling older woman but mentally and physically suffering. She needs care but is carrying a lot of baggage against people of colour and migrants who are the carers. Jamie is her daughter, a bus driver who has to do overtime to make up for the loss of her husband’s job while trying to be there for her mother. And then moving into magic realism, Ibn Khaldun is a mystic, jurist and philosopher from the fourteenth century. He lost both of his parents to the plague at the age of eighteen. He throws another lens on the whole play by pitching the pandemic against the Great Plague years. As a Muslim, he was demonised and forced to become an exile from Europe in north Africa. He wandered the deserts with the Berber people to find a new home.

Although vastly different, one thing that brings these different time periods together is that racialised minorities proportionately suffered more than others. While they also caught and died from the contagion, the paranoia of the time led them to being blamed for its spread and their communities despised. In the medieval era it happened with Muslim and Jewish communities in the west. In the modern era it happens most obviously with those of East and Southeast Asian descent but also with other racialised minorities – many of whom were key workers at most risk of catching the disease, and then blamed for spreading it.

What are you hoping that audiences will take away from the play? I hope that they can begin to appreciate the real-life impact of viruses, Johnson and Hancock on diverse lives. How loneliness on the one side, and social suffocation, on the other has marred people’s lives. About how we’re dealing with not just with a pandemic but a silent epidemic where in an ageing society we will not be able to care for others or ourselves without blowing the bank. How these jobs as carers are largely left to minority groups and migrants who are prepared to work with zero-hour contracts for long hours and not get paid for all of them as travel time from one home to another is often not paid for – so for something like 60 hours work, you get paid for only 40. How police emergency powers impacted racialised minorities. And how past pandemics compare with those of today while also seeing them in a different magic realist light.

By Emma Clarendon

BreaDth will play at the Omnibus Theatre from the 16th May until the 3rd June.

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