Archives for posts with tag: Brady Arts Centre Tower Hamlets

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.

We settled and saw the flowered platform of musicians and singers, saw the drapes from the ceiling and the coloured poles and waited for the bell to sound the beginning of drama Bangla style. And that’s what you have to remember; this is not reality. This is theatre for the community, up the road, cheap as chips and not interested in anything other than art. So when you sit on the bench in the small auditorium and the lights are down and the stage is polished and illuminated by rainbow colours you must allow yourself to be transported to another place, a land of dreams and stories passed down through the generatons, told in different tongues but understandable to everyone. There was never a sense of being at someone else’s party. Ruksana and Isma from Tower Hamlets Council made sure of that. And children were very welcome. It was they who were busily painting numbers and shapes on the Brady Arts Centre mural wall before climbing the stairs to the back of the theatre to enjoy a treat with their parents and aunties, grandads and uncles.

 before the curtain rises HEY!


I loved all the dancing, all the singing, the lights, even the shadows.  The dancers were perfect and professional. I could look at their costumes all day long and,  give me a fit dancing man with diamond earrings any time! I never saw any sexualisation of the dance as happens a lot when directors need to pull in audiences. It never happened and my untrained eye actually never saw any difference between the dance of the man and the dance of the woman. There was no mind-wandering because the visual feast was overwhelming and the drumbeats attractive. The show started on time and finished exactly 2 hours later without a break: none was needed. The audience was relaxed anyway.

 work in progress…The Mural at Brady Arts Centre

Technology helped people to keep up. The synopsis of each dance drama was displayed on a back screen as were relevant and excellent photographs especially photos of dancers from the past doing the same movements which synchronised with the live artistes’  movements.

The music was fabulous. It was live and punctuated with discipline. Often the singers were in chorus mode and of course were on the same stage as the performers. Individually they were moving and perfect and actually the sound engineering was ace bringing out every nasal tonal note.

Here was a drama in a theatre pulling in dance, song, music, sets, light and sound. All that for a fiver? Tagore would have wanted people to pay nothing more because the stories actually belong to them. There were stories of lust and joy, yearning and forgiveness, humanity and the gods, kings and princesses.

We looked at duets and solo performances. The whole stage was always alive. The music was in surround sound. The theatre was warm; makes a big difference.

Dr Ananda Gupta was a superb leader. The stories we witnessed in full glory were  “Shyama”,  “Notir Pooja”, “Chandalika”, “Bisharjan”, and “Malini”.

My friend Audrey Jones,  a member of the University of the Third Age,  is a regular visitor to The Tagore Centre in North London and is an admirer and follower of Tagore.

She gave a presentation a couple of years back and today kindly read her dissertation to me over the phone. I plucked out major chunks as part of my personal research into the arts and culture of Bengal.

Tagore 1861-1941 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature 1913. In England he lived in Hampstead and attended University College London.

A song without a melody is like a butterfly with its wings clipped.

There where the whole world unites is the nest.

Tagore created a spiritual climate in his own soul.

The relationship between God and Man and Nature is circular. No one of the three is more important than the other.

Tagore loved story-tellers and story-telling, the Bengali language and literature, nature, and wanted the human race to be a melting pot of cultures and people.

He was not a Buddhist.

Come learn more on Saturday 10th November at the Brady Arts Centre E1

In the early hours I read Rahima Begum’s review of Saturday night’s performance at the Brady Arts Centre E1. I love her description of the pattering feet and bells and totally applaud , like she does,the set designers. Magical just as “Midsummer Night’s Dream” is to many. It’s theatre and not reality so we must look at it from that perspective where stories, dance and music intertwine. The poster art for “A Season of Bangla Drama”  does it for me.

It was night-time at 2.30pm today; so dull and cold and yuk but as ever Whitechapel was buzzing. All the mums were out with their buggies and their other children hanging on to the pram handles. The market stalls were busy. The beautiful textiles were shaking in the bitter wind. Business as usual.

Brady Arts Centre is always ready with warmth and a welcome.

Today it was busier than ever with  Maraz Ahmed  putting up the exhibition “A Retrospective- A Season of Bangla Drama”   almost single-handedly. I was invited into the auditorium to peek at the ongoing rehearsal for The Movement Theatre’s production tonight directed by Dr. Mukid Choudhury. It was a magical shot in the dark literally because the colours of the lighting and the costumes are awesome and the professionalism and dedication of the performers, all moving, were evident,  as it should be.

Tickets were sold out early. I love the strictness about not allowing latecomers and hopefuls around. It’s an insult to the troupe when people rock up late and loud. The audience wants to stay in the realm of fantasy not be interrupted by shuffling people.

Next year I’m booking for first night at first whiff.

The trick is in the fantasies about to unfold in Hanbury Street E1 and the treat? obvious.

I was priveleged to get into the auditorium today. Thank you, Ruksana.

The month sees the Season of Bangla Drama come alive in Tower Hamlets. Plays, drama, stories, music and seminars, free and cheap. Much will be based at the Brady Arts Centre in Whitechapel and otherwise at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green.

Timely is a free walk on Sunday 21st October meeting at Wapping Station at 2pm for some education about the Lascars who settled in the docks areas. Best to book with the Whitechapel Art Gallery.