Photo By Marc Brenner
An exciting new season of theatre is taking place in the West End’s Trafalgar Studios. Trafalgar Transformed, spearheaded by artistic director Jamie Lloyd, is dedicated to transforming theatre as an art form, from one reserved for the affluent, to one that is open to a diverse audience.
Today, the cast celebrates the closing of East is East, starring Jane Horrocks and Ayub Khan-Dir. They also welcome The Ruling Class – the story of possible paranoid schizophrenic, Jack (played by James McAvoy), who inherits the title of the 14th Earl of Gurney following the death of his father in a freak accident.
Following from Trafalgar Transformed’s Macbeth, also starring McAvoy, both East is East and The Ruling Class are deeply political plays, selected because of their provocative nature.
“All of the plays in both seasons have in some way tried to analyse something of the psyche of our age, or have engaged in some kind of conversation that provokes some kind of debate,” says Lloyd.
“And a lot of them have questioned what it means to be British – they’ve all been British plays,” he continues. East is East, for example, details the life of the Khans, a British Muslim family struggling to negotiate their identities in 1970’s Salford.
“I love the idea that a play [The Ruling Class] which is satirizing the aristocracy and the ruling elites’ notion of immigration goes hand in hand, side by side with a play like East is East, which of course is about first generation immigration,” says Lloyd.
“This is so, so relevant, because we’ve got a play that is about what we’re talking about quite a lot at the moment – not necessarily the aristocratic elite but a financial elite who are, in no small way, unrelated to that mob,” says McAvoy.
Alongside encouraging debate, Trafalgar Transformed is also dedicated to creating accessible theatre. It’s also a well of opportunity – director Sam Yates had his West End first with East is East, as did many of the actors.
“You do still see, in a full auditorium in many theatres, an audience that is exclusively white, middle-aged and middle class,” says Lloyd. “I’m glad that these discussions are being had because it’s absolutely vital to try and address it, because London and our other cities are melting pot cities – they’re dynamic, cultural cities.”
“There’s still lots of kids out there who don’t go to the theatre because they don’t feel they can, they don’t feel like the theatre is for them,” says Ayub Khan-Dir, who wrote East is East and also starred in it as George Khan. But thankfully, due to the efforts of all those involved, 50 per cent of those who have crossed Trafalgar Transformed’s threshold during the past two seasons are first time theatergoers to the West End.
“Our audiences for East is East have been very diverse, from kids from the East end coming in schools to ladies who lunch in the Shires in their tweeds,” says Khan-Dir. “You can see them thoroughly enjoying themselves.”
To find out more go to Trafalgar Studios’ website.