> 4 Corners

Director John Binnie talks about the process of creating Mind Walking and looks ahead to the India tour in November

MIND WALKING began over two years ago in Deal Kent. I met the amazing playwright Tanika Gupta on a writing weekend. I warmed to Tanika's forthrightness, her strength, her laughter, - and her plays. At the end of the playwriting weekend, Tanika and I decided we wanted to work together.

MIND WALKING was also happening at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at a British Council exchange where theatre producer Quasar Thakore Padamsee met Philippa Vafadari aritistic director of BandBazi Theate company. Quasar and Philippa met over canapes and spoke about shared identities and commonalities in the theatre they were interested in making. Collaborations are about coming together and talking, sharing  stories and ideas, experimenting, devising.
With MIND WALKING, we 4 collaborators knew we wanted to take the situation of an old Indian man living in the UK, whose mind begins to wander as our starting point. The old man reverts back to his mother tongue, and this causes real problems of communication for his wife, daughter and grandson. Tanika's other brief was that the play would be an aerial drama, and centre around a metal hoop trapeze that would hang from the ceiling.

We workshopped the ideas, character, situation and hoop in 3 jampacked days for a showcase at the Alchemy Festival at London's Southbank centre. We also interviewed five older Zoarastrian men in London, exploring their thoughts about their homeland, and their journey to the UK  from India. We asked them what they missed about their homeland, and filmed them speaking in their mother tongue. Tanika, Philippa Vafadari and myself then went to Mumbai last year, where we workshoppped with Q Theatre company for a week. By this time we had decided we would possibly make the old man a Parsi. We met a range of fascinating Parsi actors/ writers/ theatre practitioners. We swapped stories. They introduced us to their world. We improvised around possible scenarios/ situations that might go into the script of MIND WALKING.

We returned to the UK and over a year Tanika worked through three drafts of MIND WALKING to end up with the script we currently are performing. It took a lot of auditioning and searching for an actor to play the lead part of Bobbie Sorabji,  a 74 year old Indian man who has lived,married and worked in Britain for over 50 years. The actor needed to be  a really strong performer, as well as fit enough to put up with the rigours of the UK and Indian tour.

We pursued  the possibility of casting a famous actor from Bollywood, we explored the possibility of casting  a young actor who could age up. Eventually we realised MIND WALKING is about old age, and we needed an actor who could realistically be 74 years on stage, who wasn't afraid to show how the years had taken their toll on the body and mind.

Peter D'Souza our actor trained at RADA, acted in theatre and films in the late 50's and 60's and then taught acting to students for 40 years at Glasgow's Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. All the time Peter continued performing, including playing the tiltle role in 'King Lear', Duncan in 'Macbeth', and in classical Greek tragedies.

Peter's  own father is very similar to Bobbie in the play. His father was an Indian from Goa who was stationed in Wales as a doctor in the RAF in the 50's, who married a white woman. Peter is the product of that marriage.

We opened MIND WALKING in London 4 weeks ago, where we performed in front of many Parsis. The Parsi scenes in the temple with the prayers, the fire and the tying of the kusti chord always got a strong reaction. But we have since gone onto perform it throughout Southern England and a week in Scotland, where sometimes the audience have no knowledge of Parsis. Each audience is different. So are the lay-out, dimension  and styles of the other 11 theatres we have toured to. In some of these venues, when the audience know nothing of the Parsi background, the play still seems to work, in its depiction of a family dealing with the failing health of a patriarch. We have performed for students at further education colleges in Hemel Hempstead, or conducted bi-lingual drama workshops in Hindi and English in elderly day centres for South Asian communites in Glasgow, or performed for a youth theatre of teenage African refugees in Stirling. This variety of touring theatre venues keeps the production fresh.

Bringing MIND WALKING to India is so exciting. We'll perform in three distinctive venues, and do outreach workshops alongside the production. How will it be received? How will the initial participants at those first workshops in Mumbai relate to the play they helped create? I have no idea. How will this UK cast cope with performing in the heat? What discussions and shared stories lie ahead? What light will the play shed to Indians about their idea of British society? What will the UK company learn about their own culture? Doing workshops which explore legacy and look at the possibility of future collaborations while we are touring India, means we are constantly on the look out to make new theatre. We want to make real theatre, theatre that connects, and makes people feel and understand their situation in the contemporary world.