A remarkable, poignant moment in an old people’s home lies behind Brighton-based BandBazi Productions’ latest show Mind Walking (Brighton Dome Studio, March 25)
Company founder and choreographer Philippa Vafadari said: “I was going to visit my grandmother-in-law in an old people’s home. She had dementia, and I met an old man there who was Iranian, but could not speak any English any more even though he had practiced as a doctor in the UK.
“I am half-Iranian and I spoke to him in Farsi, and he just started crying. I thought he was a child. He had gone back in time. Part of the process was that he had lost the English that he had gained, which has interesting – but awful for him. He was in English surroundings and could not communicate.
“When I spoke to him in Farsi, he just wept and then started getting violent. He just could not understand what was happening.”
With her own ancestry, Philippa was left thinking “What if?” – and the idea for Mind Walking started to take shape. She approached writer Tanika Gupta who was also drawn to the idea, pulling in her own mixed marriage as part of the story.
“It’s about this amazing life that old people have led that you just don’t know about or tend to forget unless you have actually known them.”
It’s the first time the company has touched on dementia, but cultural and sexual identity and mental health are recurrent themes in the company’s work – again a reflection of that “What if?” response.
Mind Walking is a poignant study of a man as his mind falters and he is gradually lost to the alternative reality of dementia: warm, humorous celebration of the life of one extraordinary individual, the enduring love story of a mature couple and the tale of a family coming to grips with a mind as it leaves the present and wanders back into an untold past.
Bobby has led a remarkable life. Migrating from India as a young man he found love in the UK with his with wife Moira but as a Parsee, Bobby was expected to marry within the community. His family disowns him and as a result he cuts them, their religion and their culture from his life forever.
Then as his mind unravels so too does the truth of the heritage that he has concealed from those around him. As secrets and stories tumble out of Bobby’s mouth, his family starts to question their ancestry and shared history.
It is, as Philippa explains, an aerial drama, the company speciality, combining strong storylines with aerial circus imagery.
Philippa trained as an actress and then started to attend the Circus Space in London, a centre of excellence in circus arts. She started to draw on the skills in her own work and realised she needed to create her own company.
“For me, it was about developing the genre. I started developed it as an individual artist in 1999 and then formed the company in 2001.”
Tanika Gupta’s work for theatre includes Skeleton, a translation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Woman of Sechuan, The Waiting Room (Winner of the John Whiting Award 2000); Sanctuary, Inside Out, Fragile Land (nominated for the Olivier and EMMA awards 2003); Hobson’s Choice (Young Vic; nominated for the Olivier Award 2003); Gladiator Games, Sugar Mummies, Catch, White Boy; and Meet the Mukherjees, her adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
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