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Made in (India) Britain- a unique exploration of identity and belonging

Made in (India) Britain at the Belgrade at 7.45pm on Tuesday 10 October and Wednesday 11 October. All performances will be in BSL, Spoken English and Closed Captions. Director Tyrone Huggins, Dramaturge Daniel Bailey.

Review by Alison Manning.

Who am I? How and where do I fit in?

These are both common questions in coming-of-age dramas, as well as sometimes later in life. This performance depicts the autobiographical story of Rinkoo Barpaga, Roo for short, and his search for identity and community as he wrestles with the answers to these questions.

From growing up in Birmingham as a deaf child of Punjabi parents, trying to find his way, forming his first bonds and finding his first tribe in the taxi on the way to the specialist deaf school unit he attended, with Eddie and Chris and Skittles.

The story is told uniquely through one actor, Rinkoo Barpaga himself, signing and acting his story with another, Mathias André, mainly sitting at the side of the stage, providing the voice over, carefully timed and coordinated so you almost felt as if the signer was talking. The voice over provided both narration and multiple character voices to great effect.

Slight technical difficulties with the sound near the start were smoothly dealt with by a seamless switching of microphones. There is the occasional interaction between the two actors where both come centre stage, creating variety, humour and poignancy.

Barpaga effectively depicts many different characters, through actions and signing, creating humorous almost caricatures of assorted people, such as a range of taxi drivers, 1980s television actors and Olympic runners of differing characteristics and nationalities.

The story is told with humour, whilst dealing with difficult issues of ableism and racism and struggling for acceptance. It compares and contrasts his different reception in Birmingham, India, Derby, Newcastle, Japan and London. In Birmingham he finds it hard to get accepted amongst the deaf community, in particular the football club, finding them openly racist, but this contrasts with the much more positive welcome he receives at the deaf football club in Newcastle, finding joys in Britishness, having moved there for his first job in television.

In between he attends a specialist deaf college in Derby, along with his taxi tribe, where he finds he fits in well. The retelling of his trip to India also has great contrasts, with humorous depictions of his uncle’s potential wives and the initial freedom he felt there starkly contrasted with the peril of his family’s near escape from armed militants, purely because they are Sikh. Typically, this scene, perhaps the darkest of the whole play, is also tinged with humour.

The set is minimal, consisting of a bare stage with a single chair, with simple sound and light effects adding to the atmosphere, such as the cacophony of noise reflecting Barpaga’s first experience of hearing after having hearing aids fitted as a young child, or the occasional uneasiness of finding himself in the spotlight.

It was odd, as a non-signing member of the audience, to feel in the minority, but it probably provided an insight into the world Roo faced, feeling like an outsider. It is a fascinating glimpse into his life and the ablesism and racism he faced whilst working out his identity and where he belonged, performed in a riveting and unusual fashion.

You can catch Made in India Britain at the Belgrade at 7.45pm on Tuesday 10 October and Wednesday 11 October. All performances will be in BSL, Spoken English and Closed Captions.


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