Emotional and funny, fast-paced and tragic, ‘Castaways’ revolves around Sam, Kieran and Asha, born on the same day, in the same hospital, who have attended the same schools, and lived in the same neighbourhood of a town “Voted the s***test place to live in the UK”, where, in the manner of Tony Robertson, head of the ‘English Defence League’, their local ‘Street Defence League’ racist, Kieran’s brother Nick, owns a tanning salon.
The small set is ingenious, bordered by brick walls layered with graffiti, barbed wire, ‘Stand Up to Racism’ and ‘SDL’ posters, and litterbins. At first posing for selfies and chatting, the three friends flow around the space. Those same bins become a sunbed; two low walls become school library desks; Sam sleeps under a St George’s flag. Later, Asha dances with it.
Yasmin Sidhwa, the play’s artistic director and founder of Mandala Theatre Company explains that ‘Castaways’ is about “What makes young people connect or disconnect to the communities they grew up in… We want the audience to be moved… and to feel motivated to do or see things differently, especially… young people who may not go to the theatre normally.”
Asha is a Muslim by birth. Kieran loves Asha’s mother’s cooking. Sam’s brother is a soldier in Iraq. Radically, with stirring consequences, the triumvirate breaks apart, Sam one way, Kieran the other. “I lost my brothers to a lack of belonging.” Asha laments.
There are perfectly judged lines, like “Girls don’t carry coffins.” Or “Mum is in the VIP area of grief.” And, later, “Sam’s pint doesn’t even fit his hand properly.”
At the turning point of the play, “Sam stops smiling,” Asha says.
Researching the draft and final script with writer Atiha Sen Gupta, Yasmin Sidhwa says “We focused on four towns or cities [with differing demographics]: Luton; Woolwich, London; Oxford; and Stockton-on-Tees so that we could see if there were similarities or differences in what the young people were saying… if they were proud of their town or city; if they ever felt like an outsider; their views on friendship groups, extremism and vulnerability.”
At the post-show discussion, at the Old Fire Station Oxford, questions were raised, such as: “Is it politics and ideas that change us, or something else?”, “Can people from different cultures/religions remain friends?”, “Would you disown Sam or accept his views?”, “Would you describe Oxford in a positive way?”, “Who is or isn’t parented?”, “Is feeling separated from your home town part of growing up?”, and “What access (i.e. To community services/provisions) do young people have?”
Members of the audience were asked which moment had the strongest effect on them. I can still see Asha dancing. There will be a further tour of Castaways in the Autumn
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Photo Credit: David Fisher