The UK-based performing arts company Bandbazi has been touring India this November with their play Mind Walking, a cross between theatre and aerial acrobatics.
Philippa Vafadari, the creative director of Bandbazi who also plays the role of Rosa in Mind Walking, talks to us about the making of the play.
Shuchi: What prompted the choice of subject – an old man losing his mind, in an alien land?
Philippa: I am half Iranian and met an old Iranian man in a dementia care home who had forgotten his English and only spoke Farsi. I speak ok Farsi and when I spoke to him he wept. Where was he? Iran aged 10? Who knows. He was in an English home with nothing familiar around him. My mother and my siblings don’t speak Farsi. What would happen to our family if my dad lost his English?
Shuchi: What challenges did you face in bringing the script to stage?
Philippa: Justifying the use of the hoop in the piece. Making sure the Parsi references were clear to those who didn’t know anything about them – that is, most UK audience members.
Shuchi: How were the actors chosen? Were all of them skilled aerialists when they were cast?
Philippa: I am the only aerialist in the cast. The others were chosen for their acting skills. Peter was also cast because his father was Indian.
Shuchi: Do all of Bandbazi’s productions involve aerial performance? Do you have scripts tailor-made for your productions or do you adapt them to your style?
Philippa: We always use an aerial metaphor. We tend to devise our own work, with John Binnie as our writer. The commission for Tanika Gupta was our first external commission. She wrote the play with the hoop as an image from the outset.
Shuchi: The background score for Mind Walking was an interesting mix of different styles, notably the very Indian hoop theme. We’d like to know more.
Philippa: The hoop theme was Ravi Shankar’s Pather Panchali film score. Tanika wanted this as it was more Indian in feel. The music for the Zoroastrian priest and the final Parsi suit was ancient Persian bagpipe music – linking Bobbie with his heritage in Persia. The Elgar is quintessentially English for his voyage to the UK. The Beatles was Bobbie and Moira’s song when they first met.
Shuchi: The aerial hoop could have been controlled via a behind-the-stage device, couldn’t it? Instead, the rigging was placed right on stage, visible to the audience. Why so?
Philippa: We didn’t want people to wonder what was happening offstage. The hoop was to be a character with us – Bobbie’s memories and our shared Persian/Parsi heritage.
Shuchi: Did you prepare yourself differently for staging Mind Walking in India after its opening shows in UK?
Philippa: Only practical things such as not bringing heavy set props, floor-cloth and wardrobe. This made the show more stripped down. The lighting was simplified as well.
[Above: A scene from Mind Walking, with the entire cast in view.]