Home is not the Place: Annie George @ Traverse

Traverse

Where do I belong? What defines me? Where is home?

A poetic, poignant show by award-winning writer Annie George, contrasting the remarkable story of the short life and lost work of her grandfather, Kerala poet PM John – shortly before India’s independence – with her own, as an immigrant in the UK.

Drawn from family memories, with music by Niroshini Thambar and visuals, it explores what ‘home’ means. An intimate story of personal and political independence painted on an epic canvas.

 

Created with support from the Scottish Book Trust.

 

There is a description of Home is… that calls it poetic: does this adjective mean anything in particular to you in terms of the production? How would you describe the poetic elements of the script and dramaturgy?
It is a way of describing my writing style, how it sounds. Monologues allow me greater freedom to use repetition, allusion, internal rhyme, visual imagery, symbolism and emotional expression however I wish – a loaded palette with which to create narrative. My style is also quite rhythmic, a tune usually emerging during the edit, and corresponds to where I take a breath or place emphasis, which can give it a spoken-word style delivery, helping to heighten the language, and vary the tone. It can be a slog listening to one voice for sixty minutes, otherwise. The narrative also involves a poem of my grandfather’s.

The story comes from your own family history: do you find that theatre is an effective place to explore personal stories, and does this have a particular impact on the structure and form of the work?


The personal story is important in my work – particularly as I’ve been doing solo work for the last five years. In any case, it’s a thing, a form in itself. I think it’s also crucial in helping to diversify the sector, as there seems to be such a neglect or under-appreciation of artists from diverse backgrounds, or indeed of mature artists, like there’s nothing to learn from them.  Well I beg to differ!

Story is everything and everything is story. Structure is just the way of best teasing it out. Form depends on the project, and what is appropriate for that particular story. Then again I just break the rules anyway when I feel like it. The single best thing about being an independent, self-producing writer, is that I write what I damn well like!

I am starting to have doubts about the capacity of theatre to engage with contemporary experience – just in general really, although I have seen work that denies my doubts, so… getting to asking a question, what attracts you to theatre as a medium, and do you feel that, as an art-form and a community, it is capable of holding its relevance in a rapidly changing society?
Don’t start me. I absolutely believe that theatre can engage with contemporary experience, if it’s allowed to. It’s live, immediate, and you can adapt in real time if new things come up and you are brave enough.  Theatre has been a sanctuary for me since childhood. It’s a space where the colour and beauty of language is still treasured. The problem with the industry lies with the non-making side – the extraordinary lack of confidence to take risks and let a range of new (not necessarily young) writers fly.

It’s elitist, exclusive and too expensive to be truly open to just anyone, no matter how you dress it up with a superficial sprinkling of identity politics. Commissioning the same writers over again, for the same audiences, is about formula, and in a country this size is bizarre, stunts the culture. It’s like buying food from the same supermarket all the time. It all tastes the same after a while. I am no longer interested in [insert name of a ubiquitous playwright’s] take on every subject. In fact I go to theatre less and less each year (partly because of the cost too), except during the Festival when I get my creative nourishment from theatre from elsewhere. I would rather see work by different people with varied styles/approaches, which makes you think and feel.

Does the Traverse make a good fit for your work?
Ooh yeah! New writing is what I do, so what better fit could there be? It means a lot for me to be there with this show because it is about my grandfather (and my daughter is going to be operating one of the performances – proud mom, legacy and all that). Even though it’s taken thirteen years for me to get a full show of mine programmed there, I’m thrilled that Home is… will be the second show I’ve had on there in nine months. What’s that they say about buses?

Can you tell me a little bit about PM John – does he inspire you more as a poet or a family member (I am guessing it is probably a more complex answer than one or another)?
The answer for that forms part of the play. PM John died twenty years before I was born, so writing this play was a way of getting to know him, and to pass on to my children, who are mixed race, the history that shaped them, as they move further and further away from our roots, across five generations to my own grandson. There were no other artists in my family, so I had no role model or encouragement in my artistic pursuits. It can be a lonely place. Imagine what it was like for him, India in the 1930s and 40s.

No writers in the little village in the middle of nowhere that we come from, to emulate. He was a pioneer, the first to leave the state, travelling two thousand miles to study in India’s oldest University, first in the family to get a degree, devoured world literature, studied classical languages, theology, and was, I believe, a nationalist. Most importantly because he wrote, seventy five years after PM John died, he lives on through his words. We each have (and have the right) to tell our stories, however we can. If we don’t, it’d be as if we never existed.  It is our immortality. As I say in the play, ‘we are history, poured out on to fragile pages’.

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