British Indian writer Wersha Bharadwa has a word of mouth lockdown hit in 'What We Are Made Of', her new play on the experiences of South Asian women who migrated to Britain during the 1960s and 1970s from Kenya and Uganda.
The play had its UK premiere at the Migration Matters Festival Online in mid-June and has since amassed a global viewership of over 9,000 hits - brought about largely with a social media buzz and in particular a WhatsApp campaign created to help reach out to older South Asian audiences.
'What We Are Made Of: The Untold Stories of East African Asian Women' is headlined by an all-female British Asian cast and takes viewers on a historical journey, presenting the real stories of South Asian women who came to the UK in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of the waves of Asian migration from Uganda and Kenya.
Having worked as a journalist for a series of UK titles including 'The Guardian', 'The Independent' and 'Cosmopolitan UK' - where she was the first British Indian staff writer, Bharadwa wrote the drama exclusively from real-life interviews she conducted with women she felt had largely been marginalised in history.
“It's an isolation/lockdown digital play in every sense. The actors rehearsed in isolation and I had to direct remotely,” recalls Bharadwa.
The result is a powerful documentary-drama detailing personal accounts of love, loss, courage, and the effects of the British Empire. The all-women version of this migration story adds a new dimension, enhanced by the strong acting skills of Promila Thomas, Ariya Larker, Subika Anwar Khan and Sabrina Nabi.
“Originally it was going to be a script-in-hand performance given by myself and actor Ariya Larker,” explains the playwright.
“But as more women started coming forward to be interviewed, it turned into a bigger story. I started uncovering bits of history I had never read or been told about, especially in terms of Kenya and what happened to the Asian community and why they came to the UK. I cast Subika, an extremely gifted performer, while I was writing the script and she gave some great feedback as script editor.
“Sabrina and Promila were cast upon completion and I was really lucky to have them on board - they were both brilliant.”
The inspiration for 'What We Are Made of' came from an earlier play Bharadwa had written for Sampad Arts in Birmingham but that had to be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
One of the women interviewed for that play was Sarla, played by Ariya Larker in the new play, who spoke about her experiences as a refugee arriving from Uganda in 1972.