Posted: 31 August 2023
Artist Spotlight: Playwright, TANIKA GUPTA
With a successful career spanning over two decades and across theatre, TV, radio and film, we’re very excited to have the incredible Tanika Gupta as our August Artist of the Month.
Tanika’s theatre credits include Out West and A Doll’s House (Lyric Hammersmith); Red Dust Road (National Theatre Scotland); Bones (Central School for Speech and Drama) Hobson’s Choice (Manchester Royal Exchange); Lions And Tigers, Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe); Anita and Me (Birmingham Rep) – to name just a few! For television, Tanika has written for the likes of Doctors, London Bridge, Eastenders and Grange Hill.
She’s also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Fellow at Rose Bruford College and Central School of Speech and Drama and has an honorary doctorate in the Arts from Chichester University. She is also a recipient of an MBE for Services to Drama.
And now with one play currently ruling the roost (The Empress), and another set to present a Dickens classic with a twist (Great Expectations), is there anything this human cannot do?
What’s the best thing about being a playwright?
Best part is basically making up stories for a living! I also love the collaborative nature of theatre – I write a script and then work with the director/actors/designer who bring my words to life.
Was there a particular moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
My parents encouraged me from a young age to write stories and plays. When I was six years old I wrote a short story at school. Then I went on to write little plays for my fellow class mates, which we would perform to the class. As I grew up, I read novels and saw plays and in my twenties joined the Asian Women Writers Collective – so I guess I always knew I wanted to be a writer.
Who were your creative inspirations growing up?
My parents. My Baba (father) was a singer and my mother an Indian dancer. Baba was an amazing story teller and me and my younger brother grew up wrapped up in his amazing retelling (and acting) of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Much later, I read novels by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Dickens and they inspired me.
Tell us about more about the Tagoreans.
My parents met and fell in love in Santiniketan, west Bengal which was the educational establishment set up by India’s national poet Rabindranath Tagore. It was a liberal educational ashram where the arts were particularly celebrated and flourished (Music, dance, art, literature). So, when they came to Britain in 1961, they continued their love of Tagore by setting up the Tagoreans (it still exists) and performing dance dramas by Tagore. They travelled in the holidays all over Europe performing in the 1960’s, through to the 1980’s. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother dancing in the title role of Chandalika – one of Tagore’s dance dramas about a young woman from the Dalit caste.
The short answer to that is I have always loved the novel – it’s probably my favourite Dickens. l wanted to set it in India and for the play to say something about British colonialism at the beginning of the twentieth century. The original themes and characters of the novel remain the same, but I injected my narrative in between the sheets. By transposing Dickens’ classic novel to this period of Indian history, I hoped to build on his themes of class, race, violence, poverty and the penal system to look at the effects of British concepts of racial superiority, imperialism and their policy of ‘divide and rule’. Pipli’s journey to becoming a man in these turbulent times reflects the wider Indian struggle for life, dignity and identity.
What was the last play you saw recently?
I went to see The Effect at the National Theatre by Lucy Prebble. I enjoyed it very much – such amazing performances all round. Also going to see Spitting Images Live later this week!
How do you let off steam?
I like swimming and going for walks. Cooking for my friends and family.
What’s a mantra you live by?
Write a play which says something about the world in which we’re living.
Barbie or Oppenheimer?
What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a playwright?
Make sure you write everyday (even if it’s just 10 minutes), read plays as well as go and see them, attend workshops where you can share your work with fellow playwrights and support each other. Do not share your work with anyone who doesn’t understand a) how to give constructive feedback b) who understands theatre and new writing.
What’s coming up for you after Great Expectations?
I have a few more commissions from theatres which I must get on with. Also am writing a television script for BBC – a pilot episode for a new series.