• Monday, June 17, 2024

Arts and Culture

Tanya Katyal: History told as joke in ‘Testmatch’ cuts deeper

Tanya Katyal

By: Asjad Nazir

ONE of last year’s British theatre success stories was a winning lead performance from newcomer Tanya Katyal in big budget play, The Empress.

The Indian actress overcame nerves of it being her first job after drama school, and working with an experienced creative team on a large-scaled production, to make an impact on stage. Many from the diverse audience told the actress how they felt deeply connected and seen through her performance of Rani in the period epic.

The versatile young talent has followed up that winning turn with a dramatically different performance in newly premiered play Testmatch, which is currently being staged at Orange Tree theatre in London, ahead of a run in Bolton. She plays two contrasting characters in a show set across the different time periods of a Lord’s cricket ground dressing room and colonial India.

The thought-provoking show, which sees her portray a female cricketer and a male from the past, has received a positive response and added to her growing reputation. Eastern Eye caught up with the actress to talk about Testmatch and joys of live theatre.

What do you love most about theatre?

I just love stories. Stories have always been my favourite way of escaping and connecting to the world around me.

I love theatre because I get to physically be inside the world of a story and experience it up close. The absence of a screen means that the story can potentially happen all around me. It’s intimate, engaging, exciting and just so alive.

Now I am lucky enough to be part of the creative part of this process. My favourite aspect is working with so many amazing people, who come together to create these magical worlds. I find that creating theatre with them has been even more inspiring than watching it.

Tanya Katyal with Bea Svistunenko

Tell us about Testmatch.

Testmatch is a play by (writer) Kate Attwell that takes place in two timelines, modern and the 19th century. It uses cricket to talk about the British colonising of India, so has some difficult themes such as race, ethics, morals, gender, and misogyny. But because Kate’s basically a genius, it’s all dealt with in a funny satirical way. Which I think makes it even more hard-hitting.

Tell us about the characters you play.

I play India 3 and Abhi. India 3 is the youngest member of the Indian cricket team. She is very vibrant, unfiltered, and starry eyed by this world of international cricket that’s very new for her.

She’s very optimistic, cheery and hungry to prove herself.

What about Abhi?

Abhi is a sepoy in the East India Company, and a man. He is a servant to two British officers and very clearly represents being ‘colonised’. You meet him in a time when colonisation was ‘happening’ rather than an outcome of being colonised. So, he’s very much in the thick of imperialism and actively ‘learning’ and ‘navigating’ that, as opposed to being a product of colonisation. I think playing him will be really interesting.

What do you most love about this show?

What drew me most to the show was the script. I have studied colonialism since I was a child and know a lot about what was happening in India at the time. I am extremely familiar with these themes and stories.

But I really enjoyed reading the same history with a layer of satire on it. It gave it a whole new dynamic, especially through the lens of cricket.

Tell us about that.

I think the tone of the writing makes you laugh initially, and then go ‘Oh gosh, that’s actually horrible, how could they do that?’ It makes you work and really engage rather than be told, ‘This was wrong.’

I think that’s really powerful and stays with you longer. The history almost cuts you deeper because it’s said as a joke. I was just so engaged reading it the whole way through. And of course, I found out that it was going to be an all-female powerhouse creative team, and just had to be a part of it.

What’s it like being part of a female-led show?

This is actually my first time being in an all-female room, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But now I hope every job I get has this sort of energy.

I’m surrounded by so many intelligent minds (who are much smarter than me), and they all know exactly how to articulate themselves. There is such a balance of care, fun, banter and silliness in the room, which only comes from the confidence that you won’t be judged.

That must give you a lot of freedom… I think we all feel much freer to even make mistakes. Diane (director) is brilliant because she’s created a space that’s so warm, welcoming and free.

Her way of leading is to not ever let you feel like she’s leading. But still being completely in charge of the room. I’m loving it, I look forward to coming in to work with these girls every day.

What is your own favourite moment in the show?

I can’t tell you that yet. Come and see the show and we’ll talk about it after.

Did you learn anything new while working on this show?

I’ve learned so much about Indian women’s cricket and just women’s sports in general. It’s just been blowing my mind doing research for this project.

The hard work, dedication, and levels of skill these girls bring to the sport is insane. And it’s met with not even half the adulation or rewards that the men receive. And this is largely true globally across most sports for women. It’s been eyeopening and appalling. But on the bright side, I now have started following women’s cricket and the Indian team. I have a couple of favourites too. Fully fangirling over Smriti Mandhana.

Do you ever get nervous before going on stage?

Yes, I do actually. It gets less and less the more I do the same show. But I’ve found that a pre-show routine really works for me. Something that is repeatable before every single show. So, like a warm-up, then hair and make-up, then wardrobe, and a meditation.

Anything really, but just physical things that I can repeat before every single show that won’t change every day. I find that keeps me from getting in my head.

Tanya Katyal with Aarushi Riya Ganju in Testmatch

What is your own favourite show you have seen as an audience?

That’s a really hard question. But of what I’ve seen recently, I really enjoyed Jamie Lloyd’s The Effect last year. And I also absolutely loved Vanya.

What makes for great theatre?

I feel like I’ve always resonated with theatre that is honest and isn’t afraid to break the mould.

The story is at the heart of theatre and when all other elements come together with the pure purpose of serving that story, it makes for genuinely moving theatre, I think.

Why should we all watch this show?

Because it’s hilarious, educational, cheeky and troubling, all at the same time. It’s a total entertainer that leaves you with a lot of laughs and thoughts when you leave. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.

Testmatch at Orange Tree theatre, 1 Clarence Street Surrey TW9 2SA until Saturday, May 18. www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk and Octagon Theatre, Howell Croft South, Bolton BL1 1SB from May 23-June 1. www.octagonbolton.co.uk

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