By Tenzin Dharpo
DHARAMSHALA, Mar. 29: Award winning playwright Abhishek Majumdar’s play premised on a Tibetan nun during the 2008 uprising in occupied Tibet, titled ‘Pah-lah’ is due to be premiered early next week in London. The play that was surrounded by controversy since 2018 has run into yet another. Tibetans in UK cried foul over the Royal Court Theatre not having auditioned Tibetan talent despite assurances by the casting team. The final cast of the play does not have a single Tibetan talent.
The London based theatre in a statement said they regretted causing the “confusion and disappointment” to the close-knit Tibetan community in the UK for what they called a “communication failure”. While the theatre maintained that they resorted to a “thorough process that involved traditional casting avenues and also a public open call for performers and artists”, Tibetan activists and community members say that despite interest and communication with the concerned authorities, Tibetan actors were not called for auditions.
Tibetan activist Kunsang Kelden wrote on her facebook, “The Royal Court released a statement saying that they had engaged with the Tibetan community, and had put out an open call for casting. They said that there were no suitable roles for the Tibetan actors who had expressed interest and as a result, none were auditioned. Leaving aside that this is inaccurate, how can we increase that number when Tibetans are routinely left out of the stories that should centre us?
“Despite the unacceptable casting, the playwright, production and marketing team of “Pah-La” have had no hesitation reaching out to Tibetans and Tibet Support Groups seeking help with securing costumes and loans of props, as well as asking them to advertise their production and connect them with Tibetan media for coverage”.
Weeks after Tibetan activists and community members confronted the Royal Court Theatre over the casting row, the representatives of theatre and the Tibetan community sat down on March 20.
Tibetan filmmaker Sonam Anjatsang, along with Tibetan activists Dechen Pemba and Georgina Doji, met with the Executive Producer of the play Lucy Davies and the Director of the Royal Court Theatre, Vicky Featherstone. Anjatsang who described the meeting as a “positive way forward” told Phayul that the theatre provided assurances for future collaborations with the Tibetan community.
“I feel that despite the initial setback, the meeting cleared a lot of things. They were open to what we have to say and we feel that our grievances were met with positive assurances as far as collaborating with the Tibetan community in the UK is concerned,” he said.
The RC theatre in their statement said they will hold performance workshops for young and established Tibetan performers and include Tibetan writers in their program, in addition to providing space for a Tibetan cultural performance next month.
The play which revolves around a Tibetan nun who later self immolates is based on real stories during the 2008 Lhasa uprising in occupied Tibet and is developed by the writer after years of research and collaboration with exile Tibetans in Dharamshala, India, considered to be the seat of the exile Tibetan community.
The play earlier ran into another controversy after the Royal Court Theatre shelved the play following pressure from Beijing. After a public apology the play was picked up again by the theatre. ‘Pah-la’ will be enacted daily from April 3 to 27 at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in London.