Playwright Atiha Sen Gupta’s modern take on classic play makes her very Abi

A rising writing talent with two plays in production right now, surprisingly Atiha Sen Gupta still has to support herself with a part-time admin job, writes Simon North.

“Writing for theatre is my passion but it doesn’t yet bring in enough to pay my bills’, she said.

“I never know what’s coming next and it’s hard to always see a career path.”

Having two shows on at the same time is rare for a young playwright and may signal a breakthrough moment for the 30-year old.

“I’m usually delighted to have one play performed so to have two on stage at the same time in different parts of the UK is satisfying.”

Her latest work Abi is already attracting huge attention due its close connection to Mike Leigh’s famous play Abigail’s Party.

Staged at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch Abi is a contemporary response and will run alongside a revival of the original Abigail’s Party.

The story of suburban manners is given a new twist as Sen Gupta re-imagines Abigail as a mixed race grandmother dealing with the issues faced by her teenage grand-daughter.

Young people coping with living in the UK today is Atiha’s primary focus in both Abi and her other current work Castaways, which Oxford-based Mandala Theatre Company is taking on a 9-date UK tour in September.

“There is an interesting strand in both plays about how young people fit into their family unit and also struggle to find a  sense of belonging in the UK today”, Sen Gupta said.

Castaways is about three close friends from different backgrounds who have grown up together until events blow their world apart.

The characters feel alienated from their community and each one suffers separation from a close family member.

Castaways is a bold piece of writing which does not shy away from showing the circumstances that can lead vulnerable people into extremism.

Sen Gupta drew on her own experience growing up in an urban area in the UK when writing Castaways and a series of workshops run by Mandala.

She said: “How ethnicity effects you as a school-age teenager is drawn from my own experience of being born in the UK but not feeling like I fitted in well.”

Castaways’ script was written from comments made during workshops held in Woolwich.

“It’s actually hard even for a young writer to stay in touch with young people’s culture and fast-changing language,” she said.

“The workshops allowed me to hear what young  people are actually saying about the issues they face day-to-day.”

Sen Gupta also wrote into Castaways a piece of real world irony as some scenes revolve around a tanning shop which was taken from far right supporter Tommy Robinson’s life story.

“There is a delicious irony in finding out a person with racist views runs a business turning white people brown”, she said.

This process is on-going as Sen Gupta will meet audience members in a panel debate after the Castaways performance at the Albany Theatre in Deptford on October 16.

Audience comments will then be fed into future scripts.

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