This is the seasonal culmination of hard work by admin teams in Tower Hamlets and artistes with passion. The venue is the Brady Arts Centre in deep Whitechapel. Love it. It’s Bangla Town. It’s warm November evenings where theatre-goers are greeted with smiles, and “How are you?” and free classy exhibitions. It’s an excuse to see Whitechapel by night with its thundering lorries, and car after car and tower blocks and men congregating in groups sharing their home languages.

Eventbrite advertises all the plays and presentations at non-West End prices. Book yourself in for a Bengali-British feast.

 

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Blog done.

http://www.upyourstreet.wordpress.com for seniors around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

                                                                 Afterwards

Last night I watched an angel dance

On a London stage

In our BanglaTown

Wedged between tower blocks

And Aldgate wealth of chicken shops

And sarees.

First he balanced perfectly

On one leg and then on the other

His white lungi opened wide

His anklets stirred.

And we were in an oasis

Transported to somewhere else

He was the universal player of good deeds

A despatch rider from heavens above

The embodiment of getting it right

The message man to our souls.

An actor acting something unreal

A pretender rehearsed in his role.

We in from the rain of a November evening

Succumbed to the illusion

The stage lights warmed us

And the celestial beings

Folk-lored and globally-taled

Redundant and resident in

Beloved poems and nurseries

Joined in the dance.

What a fabulous performance! Proper drama. Where else can you go to a community theatre and be welcomed by our events organiser? And who else provides free refreshments in the intermission? Brady Arts Centre is the place to be.

The stage was ready and ON TIME the performance began with vitality and gross swearing. We were off, comfortable on our benches, warm in the set’s lights and about to be entertained with excellent acting from everyone, poetry spoken very well, singing out of this world and touches of angst and humour peppered with colloquialisms, Streetspeke, wise old sayings and modern bang up to date observations of life. For example why couldn’t so and so eat ice-cream? Answer “Allergic”. Kebabs, Halal hot-dogs, Yorkshire puddings, Magnum ice-cream, fish fingers; all references to the multi-cultural society we find in Bangla Town and then some. A huge nod to the year 1971, the year Bangladesh was forced to form itself, reminders of  family and village back home, some quips about the position of the Bangladeshi woman, a band of angels, and all this on a simple, I mean simple stage.

I loved it despite it got pretty tedious towards the end and we feared the cliched ending with a predicted I told you so exposure of Mr Magnum’s (aka Manush the fallen angel or was he pushed? ) former earthy identity. We had an happy ending, that’s for sure.

I loved the energy, the quickly changing scenes, the voices and optimum use of the stage, the youthfulness, the daring, the risk-taking such as break dancing in front of an audience. Anything could go wrong.

The journey home was awkward as be warned the 254 bus does not travel along Whitechapel High Street until late December. The 25 buses were crazy; one after the other. I was sat next to an African whose mouth stank of the stockfish she’d gnawed last night. Who knows what she suffered to get to Mile End, east end.

There was no kick against authority in this Bangla Drama feast. Here was a play showing how a person must know her history to gain a certain sense of freedom. Demons have to be wrestled with.  In “Londonee”, a soul had to be saved, the soul of a “no good Londonee”. In that phrase alone all the despising of the Bangladeshis who settled around Aldgate with their muddled identities is raw. A Bangladeshi forsaking her family doesn’t please the gods when she embraces a foreign London life. Roots must be preserved.

The character Carl was great. What an actor!

The performance deserved the noisy clapping at the end. The audience never moved away immediately. The people were mesmerized and looked like they wanted more as if the fiver entry weren’t bargain enough.

Top night out.

Next Tuesday at ridiculous hour Film 4 is showing “Brick Lane”.  This is the 2007 film  of Monica Ali’s novel  starring Tannishtha Chatterjee as a Bangladeshi woman in an arranged marriage and her adventures in Brick Lane. When I saw the film about five years ago, it did nothing for me. So now I must look at it in another light.

Another film showing on Friday morning is “The Rochdale Pioneers” made in 2012. It’s set in 1844 and tells the story of working class people and solidarity.

Lots to see especially on Friday night at the Brady Arts Centre which hosts “Londonee”.

Coming up this week on SkyArts 2  today noon until 1pm Series 1 Episodes 1 and 2 of “Prithviraj Chauhan”. Here is the  epic Hindi drama series about the warrior king Prithviraj and his love life. Continues all week.

AND lots of Shakespeare too with “The Tempest” starring Dame Helen Mirren AND “Othello” followed  by “Henry IV” next Monday. Ooh telly nights.

In real life of course “A Season of Bangla Drama”  goes into heady heights on Friday with “Londonee”. Cannot wait.

My dad used to run a community centre: It wasn’t called that because the word “community” hadn’t entered common parlance by that time. But everyone knew where it was…”up the school”.  Unlike the Brady Arts and Community Centre which is easily missed.. My companion never made it to the Centre tonight from Whitechapel Station because the shopkeepers and street roamers had no idea where the building was. Of course it’s pitch black at 6pm. And consequently my friend missed the Tagore comedies.

Firstly the comedies, “Hasya Kawtuk”  were in Bengali and throughout the hour presentation of five comedies only two English words were uttered;  “station master”. Well, I’d been asked to blog about the experience and blog I would. Drama is universal, right?  I have never in my life had a front row seat specifically reserved for me. I was honoured and realised that the mayor who turned up in full regalia after the event has surely missed his opportunity to sit next to me in my absent friend’s reserved seat. Next time Lutfur.

Much of the comedy was in the puns and in the repetition of words. Over my head, of course but I was able to understand the body language  and believe me, the acting was superb. As was the dancing by two young confident girls. Added to all of that I was impressed as always by the singing and the sonorous beat of the drum. A popular song signified the beginning of a different sketch.

During the play, Rogeer Bondhu,  a backdrop showing archive rail journey scenes heightened the sense of time and place. Even a soundtrack was gripping and certainly transported us away from reality into Tagore’s fictional world. Really though I was unable to tell during which century all the scenes were set. In a European drama I can often guage the period by the clothes. The audience which included kiddies who should have been in bed enjoyed the production. I was irritated immensely by people behind me eating crisps and scratching like rats in their plastic bags . What could I do? I was at someone else’s party.

If I were working in a factory I’d have considered tonight as ‘workers’ playtime’  meaning it was light, a shared inclusive joke and an interlude on a cold Sunday full of laughter. All the seats were sold; full house. “A Season of Bangla Drama” is in its tenth year, on its eighth night and its  third weekend. On a roll.

The Charon Cultural Centre artistes entertained and illuminated us this evening. The organisation exists to appreciate and discuss Bengali literature on a monthly basis. Its director is Rubaiat Sharmin Jhara.

The posters and brochure designs for SOBD are by Maraz Ahmed  and tonight he was publicly acknowledged. I believe he loves Tagore.

I turned the corner into my road smelling the lovely fried chicken wings in the take-away and wondered and imagined  how I’d deal with a youth or a nutter jumping out of the alleyway. Believe me, the startled fox scared me silly such that I stamped rather than walked softly as is my wont in my effort to warn off Reynard. “Would my looks be marred by a fox’s claw marks and would I automatically get a tetanus jab?” Oh, the drama!

All dressed up to see Tagore’s comedies

I learnt so much from listening to Dr. Nazneen Ahmed and Dr.Mohammad Ahmedullah on Thursday at the Brady Arts Centre that I need to share. I learnt much from esteemed audience members too. The whole point of my getting involved in this the tenth year of “A Season Of Bangla Drama” sponsored by Tower Hamlets London Borough was to expand my knowledge of international drama bearing in mind that most stories acted out on stage are universal ones and are continually refreshed through innovative theatre. I also believe that to learn about another culture one must reach out to know about it through dance, drama, literature and its people of course. Sounds elementary but for me it means delving into Tagore’s life and work and learning more about the political make-up of Bengal vis a vis Bangladesh.

My exposure to east end life includes the blockbuster film “Brick Lane”, the comedy “East is East”, the book and TV film “White Teeth”, a fabulous TV docu-series recently with Alan Cumming “Urban Secrets”,  personal poetry inspiring visits to Brick Lane hip hop clubs, Suggs’ miniseries about London showing the transition from Jewish to Bengali neighbourhoods, talking to my elderly Indian Jewish ex-tailors in Whitechapel and many exploratory walks especially with Clive Bettington arranged through The Hackney Museum, joining the Hermitage Community Moorings project in Wapping to learn abot the Lascars, and attending multi-cultural events in the past at the Brady Arts Centre , and in the Rich Mix where hipsters congregate.  All of these experiences obviously shape my perceptions and realities about people in Whitechapel now.

In reality I have hardly met Bangladeshis and they have not met or endeavoured to meet me. Watching any Asian singing and dancing  i.e at Eid and Diwali celebrations in Waltham Forest and struggling through the boredom of the Darbar Festivals 2011 and 2012 on SkyArts can never give me anything except a superficial insight into other people’s lives. I am on a personal journey of fulfillment, that’s all.

The Brick Lane Circle appears to be interesting. Sounds like a reading group…groan. Dr Mohammad Ahmedullah did not give coverage about Bangla Drama in the UK now at all. He spoke about Bangla Drama as it was around the decades before The Millenium in Tower Hamlets which was known not as that then. Even now I meet people who live in Leyton and have no idea what is or where lays Tower Hamlets. They’ll relate to McDonalds “A Taste of India” this week and imagine they went to Spitalfields! Having said that most people I meet in Whitechapel have no idea where Leyton is on the perimeter of The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (2013). Waltham  Forest may as well be in Sherwood.

Back to Bangladesh.

One vocal audience member who knew his facts about dramatists from Moliere to Tagore and was a playwrite himself complained in the best possible way that the comparative study did not touch on the Midlands and Scotland . For a one  hour free exposition and slide show there was enough to absorb, I said to myself.

So before,  there were pockets of “cultural studies” going on in Whitechapel and environs pulling in youth and elders and appealing for women to come in to the community centres such as Toynbee Hall. The youth were and are interested in writing plays in English: They are after all second and third generation Bangladeshi boys and girls. Beautiful people. Dr Ahmedullah highlighted that the councils at the time were not giving generous funding and at that point we were alerted to an old book Naseem Khan’s  “The Arts Britain Ignores” all about minority cultures struggling to give identity to their cultures through the arts. We should remind ourselves that  in the eighties, Tharcher was cutting drama teacher posts. Dark times. In 2010 Hackney Empire turned off its own lights.

Looking to the future, there were three areas which need to be addressed if Bangla Drama is to survive outside the council promoted SOBD (Season Of Bangla Drama)  and these provoked audience participation and personal memories of an arts struggle. (It’s all up there with “Do we still need a Black History Month?”).

One area we needed to note is  finding ways  to overcome  the perennial problem of recruiting women into performance arts. Another  area for urgency is the  creation of opportunities for an interested youth but the drama as formal theatre is hampered by the lack of skills for drama work in the Bangladeshi community. Skills, money and time are essential if Bangla Drama is to belong to its population. At this point the audience knew there was a real dilemma and we could have slid easily into the depths of negativity. We didn’t.  Men related their own glory tales of a bygone cultural heyday. Someone’s mobile went off and we were jolted back into the Brady Arts Centre, November 2012.

At the same time in the UK national news Boyle was putting forward the case for provincial theatre and arts funding and condemning the arts minister, Maria someone saying that she never once asked to listen to Boyle and the big guns about the necessity for arts in the community. The wheel keeps on turning.

So do you know what Brady did?

Gillian Lawrence is a UK  graduate in drama and education.(Univ.of Leicester)

There is Brady Arts Centre plonk right in the middle of social housing blocks, warm and glowing in the street of brown and yellow Autumn leaves. Would that I had such a venue by my estate. I would be at every function, drag in my children and grandchildren, sniff out what’s free and share my home made samosas with the welcoming staff.

The place was buzzing yesterday. The reception staff are just smiley always and there were acting classes going on, a seminar being set up,and felt tip pens all over the place: the mark of activity and creativity. That was just on the ground floor ..and the kettle was on!

I had such a good time last night. It was freezing outside and the bus took longer because it was on diversion. I pushed myself onwards. My day had exhausted me and I just wanted to eat meat; meat in a bun,. meat in gravy, even meat disguised as fat chips. The Burger King had gone, vanished, closed down so I just made do with a packet of crisps. Hungry I entered the arena where I would begin my formal education about Bangla drama and Bangla drama in the UK.

Not disappointed at all. Remember the session would last from 7.15pm prompt until venue closing time 9pm so I knew the two speakers would take us the audience on a whirlwind journey across continents. I wanted to learn about acting troupes in Bangladesh and any vibrant Bangladeshi drama scene in the UK.

I was a volunteer blogger for “A Season Of Bangla Drama” in order to learn about other cultural enterprises.

We were introduced to a book “The Arts Britain Ignores.” by Naseem Khan .

The title of the evening’s event under the umbrella of the current Season Of Bangla Drama in Brady Arts Centre and Rich Mix E1 was”A Comparative Study-History and Development of Bangla Drama in Bangladesh and the UK”.

Our first speaker was Dr Nazneen Ahmed.  She read from her PhD notes about the two forms of drama in East and West Bengal up to 1941; Urban theatre and traditional theatre.  Dr. Ahmed  assumed an academic audience whereas not all of us were up to speed. It is always great to hear experts expound on their work. I was intrigued by some of her statements and wanted to ask more but time was limited and interruptions were many. People’s mobiles went off loudly, people chatted as though we were at a wedding, the Bangla TV photographer was shining his lamp into anyone’s eyes and actually documenting the event by film without asking permission from individuals in the audience. Anything goes? Not on really. I was intrigued that Dr. Ahmed said that in the main drama and in particular Bangladeshi  drama is about people rebelling against the authorities.

I was interested to know that much of the drama of the early 20th Century was shaped by Russian and American theatre. I couldn’t judge the attitude towards that at all except that it was a note of interest that serving military personnel from the USA  formed and produced theatre in Bengal.

The delight of the evening was the modest and softly spoken Dr.Muhammad  Ahmedulla of  the Brick Lane Circle. He went through the London archives about Bangladeshi drama in an east London full of racists and suspicion towards the incoming Bengalis after 1971. This was the east end (now Newham and Tower Hamlets) where women from Bengal and everywhere else kept in their houses and men attended meetings and cultural groups. One could believe that nothing much has changed as last night we were mainly a male and mature audience. Let us at this point remember where stands the Brady Arts Centre. Not so far from mothers and daughters, and in the 21st century.

On the pillars of the Centre are quotes and autographs of the performers guesting in A Season of Bangla Drama. The mural is finished and a worthy climax to a great exhibition about the rise of the Season. (SOBD). It’s colourful, original, street-suited and vibrant in design. Well done artists young and older!

Part 2 to follow. Coronation Street arrived! Now that’s some drama. Well-scripted and excellently acted.