When did you first become interested in writing plays?
I never had drama lessons at school. And we never read any plays either. After leaving primary school, I didn’t have an English lesson for 2 years because of a teacher’s strike and a staff shortage. So, the world of theatre didn’t enter my universe until one day about 8 years ago when my friend decided she didn’t fancy watching Transformers in the cinema and dragged me to a play about teenagers in Hackney – not far from Leytonstone where I grew up. It connected with me and my experience working with young people in Hackney and so it was then I became interested in writing a play and so I did. I was lucky as it won an award and was put on at The Finborough Theatre. Looking back to primary school though, I did love writing stories. I could make things up without having to worry about rules and grammar. But I probably learnt grammar by having fun making stories. So, without George Tomlinson Primary School I probably wouldn’t be a playwright.
Did you read the Panchatantra tales as a child?
I read different stories from India some of which were from The Panchatantra even though I didn’t know that then. They were often from a set of Amar Chitra Katha comic books, which illuminated with words and pictures, a story that I could imagine even further in my head.
Why did you choose a mixture of humans and animals as your characters?
Some of the stories in the Panchatantra just have animals, others have animals and humans.
Why did you choose the crow, mongoose and tiger stories?
I wanted to tell a set of stories that had characters at the centre of them who were young and vulnerable and had to figure things out for themselves. Adults don’t always act the way they should and they certainly don’t always know everything. This resonates with my experience of working with vulnerable children and teenagers, who had to figure what to do, why and when. Some were child refugees, many were orphans, and others had been treated badly by schools, the police or the immigration authorities. When I thought of that and the Panchatantra, I thought of what happens to the Crow, Mongoose and Tiger.
What is the Banyan Tree, and why did you include this in the title?
Various stories from The Panchatantra have the Banyan Tree in them, and it felt like I could build a magical world from the tree, its branches and the beat of animal feet. The Banyan Tree is a massive tree with many twining branches. It starts out as a seed that grows in a hole or crevice of another tree.
What do you want your audience to experience and what messages from the play do you want them to think about?
I want the audience to be thrilled because they’re stories that we’re less used to encountering in the UK. The words, sounds, music and masks are used to tell stories whose meaning you might want to think about yourself. They do not propose morals like the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that we’re used to getting from stories in the UK. Instead, the story offers up different paths and choices. What do you think the stories mean? That’s something I’m hoping the children and adults ponder. As for a message, that’s a tricky one. I think be skeptical of what you’re told, think of why it might be true and why it might not be. So, when you decide to believe in something, it’s something that resonates with you. Very important if you are a child who is navigating through life and will grow up in the world adults are messing up.
What advice would you give young writers?
In your stories, make up the world you want to write. Not the world people want you to write. Don’t get stuck on what people say is great writing if you don’t like it, or the definitive way of doing something, if you don’t want to do it that way. strike – to refuse to continue working. resonate – to produce a positive or powerful personal response. skeptical – having or showing doubt; questioning. definitive – considered to be the best of its type.
Three Sat Under the Banyan Tree plays at the Albany on Sunday 10 February, 1pm & 3pm. Book tickets here.