On juggling and fitting all the artistic impulses in

On juggling and fitting all the artistic impulses in
Credit: Maruska Mason Photography

British Indian writer-actor Lolita Chakrabarti’s dazzling stage adaption of Yann Martel’s award-winning book ‘Life of Pi’, starring Olivier Award winning actor Hiran Abeysekera as Pi alongside a life-size Royal Bengal Tiger puppet, recently extended its London West End run until January 15 next year.

Future plans for the show include a North American premiere in December 2022 through to January 2023 at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as an anticipated transfer to Broadway, and separate productions in Asia, Australia and Mexico.

Here, the versatile and talented actor and writer talks about the play’s Olivier Awards sweep earlier this year, writing diverse and inclusive stories and balancing different strands of her artistic impulses.

Q

How did it feel when ‘Life of Pi’ bagged a record hall of Olivier Awards this year?

A

It was an amazing night. You spend the time working to get the show on and to get it right and then we find out we've been nominated! So, just turning up at the Oliviers was exciting in itself and then to win was just the cherry on the cake. It was wonderful.

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Q

What in your view has struck such a chord with the audiences?

A

I think it's based on a very well-loved book. I mean, I can't ever forget that. It's a phenomenally successful, beautiful, deep book with a great story.

Then there's the puppetry, there's amazing design in terms of video projection, as well as set design and costume, fabulous actors and wonderful puppeteers. But I always go back to the story. I think that there's a universality in the story.

Yes, it's set in India and in the Pacific and in Mexico. But it's a story about loss, struggle and survival. And I think particularly given the last couple of years with the pandemic, and life anyway, who of us has not felt that?

Q

Do you feel the pandemic and lockdowns enhanced the story’s message of hope?

A

We did it first in 2019, pre-pandemic, in Sheffield at the Crucible Theatre. We had a really short, sharp run of three weeks, and it was brilliant.

Then we couldn't obviously come back to town into the West End for two years because of the pandemic. And when we came back, it had a different meaning because we'd all been through something collectively as a world.

This story deals with faith, and what keeps you going in difficult times. It also doesn't pull any punches that the danger is real. It is hopeful but you don't know if he's going to survive, and it might go wrong. But yes, ultimately, I think the survival is the key, because there must always be hope, right!

Q

Do you think this is the kind of play that could tour India too?

A

Oh, I'd be thrilled. I know, there's been a lot of interest worldwide in the production, I guess it’s the logistics of how and where and when. But I would love that.

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Q

Please tell us about your India connect.

A

My parents are Bengali from Kolkata and they came over to the UK in 1960. I grew up in Birmingham. My parents tried to emigrate back a couple of times, when I was three and then when I was 10, when we lived in Kolkata for 18 months and it was fantastic. It really shaped me.

Q

Do you find it easy to balance your acting and writing?

A

I trained as an actor and I've worked as an actor for the last 32 years, and I absolutely love it. I can't explain it, it's just an instinctive thing. I began writing about five-six years out of drama school because I was bored between acting jobs, and also the sorts of parts I was getting. I thought, well, let me see if I can tell stories.

And now I'm in an amazing position with both. So, it's a case of juggling and trying to fit things in.

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