Guest Blog: Pravesh Kumar On DISHOOM!

Guest Blog: Pravesh Kumar On DISHOOM!
Bilal Khan and Gurkiran Kaur
in Dishoom!

Dishoom! has been a wonderful challenge to develop and then direct. Right from the start, I wanted to put a British Asian actor with a disability centre stage - something that we don't believe has been done before.

We looked at the normal casting avenues and there was no one. I remembered seeing a young actor's blog online, but it had disappeared, and Sarah Hughes - our brilliant casting director - set out on a nationwide search. She found Bilal Khan: he had a raw talent, no training and was doing his final exams. Could he be the one?

After a few auditions and then a workshop, we decided that we would creatively invest in Bilal. I introduced him to Theatre Royal Stratford East and RADA's young persons' acting course, and we paid for private voices lesson with coach Christopher Holt. I then worked with him on the script in one-to-one acting lessons to get him ready for rehearsals in our ambitious new production.

I had never been in a rehearsal room with a completely new cast before. I had a brilliant script by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti and, as with all new writing, there would be tweaks and amendments. We had a mostly very young cast, with less experience but lots of talent and passion. And we all worked our socks off - working the characters, the scenes and the ambitious movement sections by Andy Kumar.

The technical rehearsal is one of my favourite moments in making a new production. It's when you see the set for the first time, combined with costumes and the lighting design - and it all comes to life with the actors and script. It's quite magical.

Guest Blog: Pravesh Kumar On DISHOOM!
Bilal Khan and James Mace
in Dishoom!

This is also the most stressful time. Everyone is tired from a rehearsal process and often tempers can flare. But we had a great time putting the show together - I could see the actors' eyes light up with all the new aspects of the production.

Dishoom! has been a brilliant and challenging experience for me as a director. It's a big, ambitious show with a big bold set by Neil Irish and vibrant cool lighting design by Rory Beaton, some incredible music by the very talented Arun Ghosh, and a sound design to die for by Chris Murray.

I worked with a bunch of very new actors, including an actor with a disability, and we all learnt from each other. The script is generous, funny and political without ever being overbearing with the issues. The audience responses have been incredible, many talking about the nostalgia of the period and recalling their own experiences at the time.

The timing of Gurpreet's play is not lost on them. What happened then is happening again now: the right is on the rise again, spreading hate and fear and blaming immigration for all their woes. History is on repeat.

"Dishoom!" is the sound of the punch in a Bollywood film, much like "Kapow" in American comics. Simon and his friends, a bunch of unlikely heroes, decide to change their own futures. It's a wonderful night at the theatre, a rare insight into the past, that will make you laugh and move you too.

Dishoom! is currently on tour - find dates and venues here

Photo credit: Richard Lakos, The Other Richard

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