James Haddrell reviews Phantasmagoria highlighting theatre writing for women of South Asian descent

This month, one of the UK’s most exciting companies championing diverse voices in theatre is to unveil a new play at Southwark Playhouse.

James Haddrell, artistic director of Greenwich Theatre

Founded over 30 years ago and now based at the Albany Theatre in Deptford, Kali Theatre offers unique opportunities in new theatre writing for women of South Asian descent.

It produces a new professional theatre production each year alongside a series of writer development programmes for aspiring and experienced playwrights.

For this autumn, the company presents the world premiere of Phantasmagoria.

Written by internationally acclaimed Indian playwright Deepika Arwind in her British debut, the play is described as a gripping psychological horror for our times and plays at Southwark Playhouse until Saturday, November 25.

The story follows Mehrosh, a celebrated student activist who travels to an isolated house in the middle of a forest to take part in a debate with a powerful political adversary from the ruling party.

What first seems like an opportunity for her voice to be heard becomes more complicated as her fear of the coming conflict increases.

Surrounded by eerie shadows and mysterious noises, and increasingly uncertain of what she is told, Mehrosh starts to struggle with a growing paranoia that the people around her are not what they seem.

Exploring the dangers of divisive politics, populism, and unbridled social media, Phantasmagoria promises to pit the terror of speaking out against the fear of staying quiet and shows how fear can be manufactured and manipulated with chilling consequences.

Although her work may not have been seen in the UK before, Deepika Arwind is an international playwright and theatre-maker originally from Bangalore whose work has been presented across India, the USA and Europe and has won or been nominated for several high-profile awards.

The development of this new play included a staged reading as part of Kali’s Theatre’s International Plays, the most recent of three biennial week-long festivals introducing writers to audiences and industry.

Arwind said “I started writing Phantasmagoria as I was interested in how we talk, debate, and argue with each other across the manufactured sharp edges we’re made to believe we occupy.

“I hope experiencing Phantasmagoria makes audiences feel and think. I hope they think about the person they most disagree with. Perhaps even measure the distance between them and think about what it might mean to walk it.”

Artistic director of Kali Theatre Helena Bell, said, “The minute I read this compelling play, I knew Kali had to programme it.

“It really speaks to the zeitgeist, asking serious political questions but delivered with a deft grace.

“The collision of reality and psychological horror is irresistible. Now more than ever it feels crucial for companies such as Kali to contribute to discussions around pressing global issues.”


Picture: Hussina Raja and Ulrika Krishnamurti in Kali Theatre’s Phantasmagoria  Picture: Nicola Young

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