Tara Arts founder Jatinder Verma has argued that a “colonial attitude” still persists in major British theatre institutions.
In an interview with the BBC, the artistic director said that the challenge of the next decades would be to ensure that Asian and African playwrights are recognised as part of the canon in the UK.
“Major institutions in this country have been thinking about diversity for several years and they’re starting to think they’ve just about solved it,” Verma said. “There are more and more brown or black people you will see on stage. There are more people who run theatre buildings or perhaps sit on boards. But to me that’s a colonial attitude straight from the British Raj: ‘We’ve sorted the natives out so now we’ll get on with the art.’”
He added: “As an ex-colonised person, Shakespeare runs in my head just as much as Tagore does. Shakespeare may be in a white person’s head but does Tagore run there? Of course not. In a British school people will study British classics and modern work too, but we don’t study Indian playwrights or African playwrights.”
Verma argued that while theatre has seen an increase in Asian performers, stories and audiences over the past 10 years, the industry is “still not at the time where all the peoples who make up modern Britain fully participate in the culture”.
He added: “In the theatre we constantly try to make Shakespeare relevant for modern audiences. But if you assume, as I do, that audiences are increasingly diverse you have to think about how in Shakespeare music and movement and costumes might attract more of an Asian audience.”
In November last year, Verma announced he was stepping down from his role as artistic director at Tara Arts after 40 years.