One of the creators of Border Crossings’ latest show, which shines a light on the history of Indian migrant labourers indentured to work on plantations around the world following the abolition of slavery, Nisha Dassyne tells Giverny Masso why she enjoys the process of devising…
What is the show about?
I got involved in The Great Experiment last year when we devised the show with four other actors. I was called in by the artistic director of Border Crossings, Michael Walling, as a Mauritian actor, because the story is about Mauritius. I thought: “How extraordinary – I thought we just appear on postcards for beaches and lovely fruit, and suddenly I am going to speak about more than fruit and beaches.” It’s a story about a tiny island that made a big difference in the globalisation of this world, in terms of the sugar, the labourers and the slaves. The island is tiny but it’s epic.
What was it like making the show?
Rattling. Coming to terms with a lot of things – the post traumatic stress of colonialism and being aware of racism within those times. We are talking about history, but from the perspective of our own reality in 2020. The actors all have their own ideas, opinions and an understanding of who they are in the world, and have connected it with their history. As a Mauritian actor, suddenly I was called upon to think about where I come from. I didn’t know much, but suddenly this devised piece involved doing a lot of research and a lot of talking to family and friends.
How did you get involved in theatre?
I have a fine art degree from Santiniketan in West Bengal. During the five years of study, I was also acting, which helped to support my fine art. Sometimes, when you’re a painter, you do bits of acting to complement your painting. Then I went back to Mauritius and got involved with the British Council and did a bit of devising for them and workshopping with kids. I met Michael Walling, who was doing Macbeth – I played Lady Macbeth. Then I came to London and worked with him again, translating a play for the Africa Centre.
What kind of work would you like to do more of?
I would say yes to any devising process. As an actor, you can be a bit of a prop for a director, but when you’re devising, you’re so important. Sometimes you don’t need a script because what you say comes from your core. Devising is about getting together, thinking, trying, not trying, and getting a bit too self-involved but also getting rid of the self.
First professional role: A sketch comedy show at Soho Theatre in London (1999)
The Great Experiment is touring venues in London from February 6 to 23. Details: bordercrossings.org.uk