Listening to history outside the colonial lens

Sara Khan, MA South Asian Area Studies 

A set of 5 audio dramas by the theatre group Tamasha tries to change your perspective through some painful storytelling.

The lights turned down. The audience stopped talking. We all got ready to hear an audio drama that might change our view of history. That was the reasoning behind travelling theatre group Tamasha’s very first digital drama project, ‘Decolonising History’, which premiered at SOAS earlier this month.

At the start of the evening, Artistic Director, Fin Kennedy, promised to ‘create empathy where it might not exist before.’ Each audio production stirred the audience, even though the story wasn’t visually presented on a screen. ‘It was rather an emotive and stimulating experience despite not having any visual performance, which is usually not easy to achieve,’ said postgraduate student Nyssa Myeda Mirza.

What I found most moving was when the program personalized tragedies, like the India-Pakistan Partition, through the haunting, slow words of a grandmother on her deathbed. You could feel her pain as the character lamented, ‘we all should have left.’

SOAS Professor Dr. Eleanor Newbigin commented: ‘All the plays point to the ways in which historical interpretations stifle and silence groups and individuals, but they also all pointed to the fragility and pain involved in questioning the past, a questioning which always entails questioning who you are as an individual too.’ ‘Decolonising History’ was created after conversations between Newbigin and Kennedy about the ‘emotional labour of history and learning.’

The show’s audio presentation also heightened the drama. In one audio production, the tension was created with the anxious clacking of a laptop before a nervous SOAS student tried to fight for higher marks on her assignment. In another, it was the sudden cawing of a hawk as it mangles a pigeon, shocking the audience. ‘The experience of listening to a pre-recorded acted piece in the company of a crowd meant that you engaged with it in a direct and stimulating way unlike a more traditional podcast experience,’ said recent LSE graduate Aditya Iyer. 

If you’d like to hear any of the audio presentations for yourself, and ‘decolonise’ your own perspective, Tamasha plans to publish all of the presentations online very soon.

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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