I first came across Annie George and her work in theatre and film when she got in touch with me while researching the history of Christian communities of the South-west Indian state Kerala for a play she was writing. When The Bridge was advertised (www.anniegeorge.wordpress.com) I could see some historical and thematic resonances with our project topic and got in touch with her. Would she be interested in developing a play based on the many first-hand accounts of conversion we’d unearthed as a project team?
Annie was indeed interested and so began our several long conversations on autobiographical narratives left by converts to Christianity in colonial India, some published already and many others still only available as unpublished manuscripts in British and German archives. When I sent her a few of these narratives, she was captivated with the range of stories and in particular with Lakshmibai Tilak’s I Follow After (English Trans. 1950), first serialised as Smruti Chitren in the Marathi weekly Sanjivani 1934-1937. As she read on, Annie was already beginning to get ideas for a play, which was exciting for us in the project team: this seemed an excellent way to make some riveting, often heart-rending, stories available to people beyond the project team and our academic audience.
However, deciding to start on a more modest scale, Annie and I decided that we would first organize a rehearsed reading based on extracts from four different narratives. Although she added an introductory historical and social context to each of these pieces, she let the narrative extracts speak for themselves—there was enough story and drama in each to captivate an audience. So far so good, except that Annie also roped me in as ‘narrator,’ a role I wasn’t expecting to play for real in a public performance! Despite misgivings over my performative abilities, I bravely said yes.
As she put the script together, organizing extracts from different narratives in such a way that the story fascinatingly moved forward, we discussed how else we could enhance the readings. Annie contacted her friend, Edinburgh-based Niroshini Thambar, musician and composer, who creates work for theatre, installations and for communities. Niroshini too was drawn to the lives described in these stories and offered to arrange music that would accompany the readings. This was exciting as it was clear that this would enhance the performance aspects of the readings. The final feature for the evening was to put together images of nineteenth-century India—a hunt through the British Library Images Online produced digitised paintings and lithographs that evoked a by-gone era visually.
With practical details for the evening sorted out—venue, time, wine and canapés—we started advertising and practising. All we needed now was an audience…