Black Theatre Live


Jatinder Verma's thoughts on staging Macbeth


Overweening ambition, jealousy, murder even, are as common in families as they are in the corridors of power. There’s hardly been a noble or low-born family in world history immune to the lure of ambition.

As Shakespeare’s play explores less the nature of rule than the consequence of relentless ambition it seems to me Macbeth’s murder of Duncan has more resonance as patricide than regicide. And so I have taken one of the stereotypical perceived virtues of Asians in Britain - family - as the setting for my production.

Setting the play in a British - Asian extended family also allows me to envisage the two worlds of Shakespeare’s play - the supernatural world of the Witches and “natural” world of Macbeth - in a different way.

All migrants carry two worlds with them - the world they inhabit & the (often faint memory of) the world they or their forbears left behind. It is that world - of memory, of superstition, of faith, of “identity” - that, for Asians at least, I think exerts as strong a pull of “roots” as the world they have migrated to. The fixation with roots is a search for authenticity, for a “purity” amidst the seeming “impurity” of the new world. A route that, in extremis, leads to the Taliban and ISIS...suggesting that striving for purity of culture is synonymous with purity of evil - as under the Nazis in Germany, Pol Pot in Cambodia and the Hutus in Rwanda, or, indeed ISIS today.

I echo the two worlds of the play by having a group of Indian hijras confront my British-Asian family.

The Hijras are a Third Gender - legally recognised only in India & Germany at present. Thousands of years old, this provocative community of transsexuals, transgenders & castrati, is ubiquitous in India, Pakistan & Bangladesh - blessing ceremonies of birth and marriage, threatening dire outcomes if their wishes are not met, mischievously prophesying fame & fortune. Indeed, even being recruited by authorities in a provincial Indian city in 2008 to collect unpaid taxes - which they did successfully! Being outside the norms of gender, hijras see themselves as part of a spirit world that traces back to the half-man half-woman god, Ardh-Narishwar.

So what happens when a British-Asian suddenly comes across hijras from Mumbai who claim he will don the clan’s turban – it’s crown? Does he deny the prophecy from a forgotten homeland? A prophecy that promises life as a latter-day resplendent Mughal Emperor? Or see in it a confirmation of his own deepest desires, setting him on a fundamentalist path of pure violence?

Jatinder Verma, Artistic Director, Tara Arts

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