Category Archives: Arts

My experiments with the CWIT Fellowship Chichester University, March – May 2016

by Shweta Taneja
Speculative fiction author
Charles Wallace Fellow, Chichester University, 2016

What I like most about the Charles Wallace fellowship is that it can take any shape you want to give it, any direction you want it to take. This freedom of choosing, or not choosing, to write, to read and explore, worked quite well for me, someone who plans her book meticulously, with each scene in place and then decides to go into a tangent while writing it.

After the initial bouts of joy on being accepted had settled in (including a series of screechy phone-calls, a drinking party with friends and other distractions that expectedly derailed my work for a week in December 2015), I prepared for the UK visa. The process was as smooth as it goes considering one has to deal with the third-party clerk layer called VFS Global. I applied for the visa application with the following: The Trust’s letter; A letter from Dr Stavroula Varella from the Chichester Univerity; another letter from the British Council stating my travel details and the fact that I’d received the fellowship; a cover letter where I explained what this was all about and why I was heading to England; and finally, a print of my airplane tickets, though those weren’t required. I forgot to add in health insurance to the pack, but the Visa authorities-that-be must’ve understood the levels of my health from my cover letter, for within ten days I had my visa. (I took a health insurance later from HDFC, the cheapest one I could find.)

End of February 2016, armed with my passport, panic and excitement as well as a mini elephant, I left for London. London Heathrow was a breeze to negotiate. The marvellous Richard Alford, the one-man-army behind the Charles Wallace Trust based in London, had arranged for £600 to be collected at the Western Union, which happened with average ease. I chose to take this in cash (though they do give you a prepaid card loaded with the same money at a £10 fee, which is a better option if you don’t want to handle too much cash) and headed to Chichester.

From Chichester station, I took the bus, a rookie mistake when you have to drag the said mini elephant who is having a bit of a tantrum. I would suggest my successor to opt for a taxi from the station which takes a mere £5-5.5 to reach the campus. Dr Stavroula Varella, the linguistics professor who I’d been in touch with from India and who handles the CWIT fellowship at the university, met me at the library and helped me get a university staff card, an essential for making sure all doors open and you can issue books from the library. She also introduced me to that apartment that was to be my home for three months, located in the Oaklands building, a mansion house surrounded by lawns on all three sides and a road in between with beautiful sunset views and a few ghosts floating around. Creative.

There were two new things that happened for my fellowship in terms of logistics which I found really useful (the older fellows haven’t availed either of these facilities): One was the catering option I got added to my staff card. Catering option costs about £50 per month and gives you £8 per day allowance to spend at the campus canteen. The canteen offers hot meals for lunch and dinner as well as healthy sandwiches with a lot of vegetarian options if you’re so inclined. This covered two meals a day during the week and I just needed to arrange for breakfast and weekend meals. Saved me a lot of time, money and visits to the grocery shop. (Also helps if you’re sheer lazy when it comes to housework as I am inclined to be.)

The second thing was the prepaid card that Stavoula, the very helpful Lorna Sargent, programme administrator for the department and Jenny and Jody at the Finance department arranged. It was a University of Chichester prepaid card loaded with all the leftover grant money after the accommodation and catering had been subtracted. The card made it easy for me to book tickets, transact online and pay my bills, use in pubs and restaurants, anywhere really. I easily tracked all transactions on Expensify (a free app for most smartphones) and send the report to the Finance team at the end of my stay, with all the physical bills, something they would require as it’s a corporate card.

Another thing I found useful at the university was the gym. The membership to the gym is quite cheap for staff members (I got it for £12.5 for three months) and there are fitness instructors to help you with a personal plan if you’d like to know which machine does what to which part of your body. The gym also has an extensive indoor sports facility. Do bring your fitness gear with you.

Having been a city-girl all my life, it took me a little time to adjust myself to quiet country life and set up a writing routine. After a rather late start, I managed to finish a draft of my long pending novel (the third in Anantya Tantrist series); took a two-week Easter break in London to explore exhibitions and get inspired in British Library reading rooms and museums; found the beginnings of a new satire I’m working on now; and finished the final editing of a paranormal novel which releases in July/August 2016 with Juggernaut Books. Alongside I wrote eight articles for my regular gig at Mint, attended classes, had conversations, travelled and read a lot, exposing myself to varied speculative fiction and comics. I also explored similarities and differences in social and political norms and perhaps came back with a somewhat clearer understanding of what makes us all humans.

I’d applied specifically to Chichester University for two reasons: One, the Folklore library, which intrigued the amateur story-collector in me. It’s located in professor Bill Gray’s study. Since Bill was unfortunately unwell, I couldn’t explore his library as much as I would’ve liked to. (Though the Folkore Centre was kind enough to accept and publish an excerpt of my latest book Cult of Chaos, in their journal Gramarye.)

The second reason was the phenomenal Creative Writing faculty in the department, something that turned out to be a brilliant decision. The English department at Chichester is small but very active and welcoming. They have a tradition where each of them take turns to take the CWIT fellow out for a cup of coffee or experience (which meant for most months, my timetable was packed with coffee/tea/cake treats, experiences and conversations). I not only made lasting friendships with most in the department, but also learnt a lot about writing, the business of it, and the challenges faced by others. Alison MacLeod, professor of contemporary fiction whose book Unexploded was longlisted for the Man Booker, taught me the art of writing short stories, a medium I’ve not really explored. She also played host to me, inviting me over to her lovely Brighton house and prepping breakfast as we discussed cultural differences, the business of teaching creative writing and what it takes to continue to write. With Dr Naomi Foyle, who is an author of a sci-fi series inspired by the political scenario of the Palestine-Israel conflict, I discussed elements in science fiction and fantasy and how to pace a story—over multiple fish and chips dinners. Hugh Dunkerley exposed me to modern poetry, while Stephanie Norgate explained to me the usefulness of writing workshops and feedback. Stephen Mollett introduced me to radio screenplays; Karen Stevens fed me food while we discussed the art of teaching writing and of writing. The department also had multiple author visits and events, which meant I met and interacted with established British and European authors like Jim Crace, Adam Marek, and Dorthe Nors and literary agents like David Godwin. Needless to say, it helped me learn and understand trends in contemporary writing in English and make some connections.

I’m a wandering soul and love to soak in nature and creative arts to inspire me into new directions. For this Chichester University was a hotbed as the university has active departments in dance, music, films and theatre. There was something or the other happening at least two-three evenings in a week, most of the things free. I became a regular at the jazz evenings, saw operas and orchestras, experienced modern dance, plays, dramatization of the Palestine-Israel conflict by a historian, attended a conference on Shakespeare and heard a panel on how sets are designed for theatre productions today.

Since I was in a university and had the freedom to choose, I’d decided in advance to attend a few classes. For this purpose I got in touch with Dr Hugo Frey, the HOD of History department at Chichester (who is also a fellow comic nerd and now a good friend), and attended quite a few history lectures on slavery, death rites, and racism. It was very interesting to go back in a class, listen in and also to understand how teaching happens in modern classrooms. It was also because of Hugo that I did a talk on Indian comics at the prestigious Cartoon Museum in London after attending a workshop there on British comics.

When you head to a new country, a new place, it’s both exciting and slightly panicky. A heartfelt thanks to Stavroula Varella, Simon Barker and Lorna Sargent for making sure I had everything I needed at the university and accommodating all my demands with bucket loads of patience and an unwavering smile. Though I’m a writer, I’m blessed with a personality which is hyper-extrovert. Which meant living in a mansion of 20-rooms, alone, wasn’t too much in the comfort zone. This loneliness vanished like smoke within a few weeks thanks to the welcome homes of Sandie Divers and her husband Ian who fed me multiple teas (yes the grammar works here) and loaned me a bike (loaning me another when my husband came visiting); Karen Stevens who let me sleep in her house, took me on hikes and multiple get-togethers. Other friends I made in and outside the university and my friends Anubhav and Neha who sheltered me while I was in London.

Finally an affectionate thanks to Richard Alford for meeting me at Trafalgar Square in London and then again coming to Chichester to spend a day around and making sure I was doing okay. And also listening in patiently as I rambled at the comic talk at the Cartoon Museum.

Here are a few images from my Instagram feed where I maintained a living journal of my fellowship. You’re most welcome to head there, browse through, see and comment.
Finished a draft of a novel; started a new work and edited a third which releases in July-August 2016 with Juggernaut Books.

Read a lot of unexpected titles and unexplored authors to force the mind to think and produce new ideas.

Explored the countryside, breathing a lot of the sea, the fresh air and the skies. Also realized why the British talk about the weather all the time.

Exposed self to a lot of pleasurable exhibitions and cultural stimuli. This is from the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the British Library.

Tried to understand the British culture as it’s now, its varied differences and similarities with my own.

Tried, really, really hard to understand the difference between dinner and supper. Realised that JRR Tolkien hadn’t imagined the word ‘elevenses’.

These are just tips and things I found useful as well as a few links for future fellows. Feel free to write to me and ask more on any of them.

- Hot and cold: I know it’s the obvious one, but I found the weather in UK fluctuating dramatically within a day, with cold winds that can grab by the neck if you’re not careful. Indians for most part are not used to it. My suggestion is cover up ears, head, neck and chest. Always, even when the weather feels warmer as it’ll happen in May.
- Hydration: All buildings in the UK have internal heating which can make it a very dry affair and even give you headaches if you’re not used to it. So drink a lot of water and eat fruits.
- Sickness: If you fall sick and haven’t brought any medications with yourself, the first step you can take is go to a Pharmacy. UK pharmacists can prescribe basic medicine. Also, the docs there don’t prescribe antibiotics easily, so do bring whatever you may need in a medical bag. For more serious things, head to St Richards Hospital’s Emergency ward, a small walk from the campus.

- Trains are really expensive but not if you book in advance. So always plan ahead and book your tickets at the NationalRail website.
- Local buses are expensive, each way costing £5 (this is in 2016, for West Sussex area), so plan your travel around the area. I got a bike from Sandie and her husband Ian and used it for two months to go around the city as well as explore trails across countryside. Would highly recommend that as Chichester is pretty bike friendly. I also asked a lot of people I met to pick me up. They did go out of their way and it was kind enough of them to show me around the city and the areas.
- Chichester University has tied up with HostUK, an organization that arranges for British families to host international students for a weekend. I would suggest you to try it out. It costs £20 and your travel to the British family’s home. I made some great friends due to this organization.
- Since I need to hangout with people when I’m not writing, I also found Meetup, a location-based social network quite useful. I was able to go on multiple hikes with groups found here.

- British Library: If you’re heading there, get your reader pass registration done online in advance. It makes sure you don’t waste a day when at the library.
- Home to stay: If you’d like to stay at someone’s home, my friends David and Oonagh, a really interesting couple who live in Finsbury Park, have a 4-BHK and are looking for tenants. They want someone for a minimum of 2-3 months. There’s a direct bus from their home to the British Library. You get quality conversation and a kitchen space to cook. Oh, and David also has occasional passes to Arsenal games (he’s a huge fan), so definitely think about it. You can email him for any queries you might have regarding London. Contact:

All the best, you!

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Valentine’s Day – the Romeo and Juliet Way

Mix the Play with Tushar Pandey and Kriti Pant

Valentine’s Day, a recent phenomenon in India, has caught the fancy of people especially the youth. February 14 is a day when people express their love to their significant others (and also to their friends, teachers, siblings and parents). Popular Valentine’s Day symbols include flowers, cupid, arrows, love birds, hearts and the colours pink and red.  Restaurants, cinemas, malls and other popular hangout places are packed as couples celebrate the day in togetherness.

Legendary romantic couples down the ages have included Laila-Majnu, Shahjahan- Mumtaz Mahal,  Antony-Cleopatra,  Shirin-Farhad. And of course Romeo and Juliet –  the lead characters from Shakespeare’s tragedy about two young star-crossed lovers. Adapted numerous times for stage, film, musicals and opera it is perhaps the most-filmed play of all time. The most celebrated film versions have been George Cukor‘s multi-Oscar-nominated 1936 productionFranco Zeffirelli‘s 1968 version, and Baz Luhrmann‘s 1996 MTV-inspired Romeo + Juliet. The latter two were both, in their time, the highest-grossing Shakespeare films ever.

Romeo and Juliet have become emblems of young lovers and doomed love. Fatefully referred to as “star-cross’d” the stars seem to have predetermined the lovers’ future.  And Indians are the greatest believers in destiny and fate. More than a tragedy, people regard the plot as an emotional melodrama.  So how could Hindi cinema stay far behind from a storyline which offers so many exciting ingredients ?  Still talked about Bollywood adaptations have been Ek Duuje Ke Liye (a cross-cultural romance between a Tamil boy and a Goan girl),  Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak  (which introduced  mega star Aamir Khan),  Ishaqzaade (which revolved around  honour killings).   More recently Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulent  “Goliyon Ki Rasleela – Ram Leela” with current heart throbs Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh was a blockbuster hit.

The timeless story has also been interpreted in modern times using social media inventions. The Royal Shakespeare Company presented a version entitled Such Tweet Sorrow, as an improvised, real-time series of tweets on Twitter and YouTube pictures and video. In the age of  mobile  phones, the story would perhaps have had a modern twist –  Romeo and Juliet would have had location-aware apps telling them of their whereabouts, and thus “the course of true love would have been… more connected” .

Mix the Play with Kalki Koechlin and Adil Hussain

The British Council invites you connect with this fabulous tale of love via an exciting online app called Mix the Play.  You can control the casting, interpretation, setting and music and create your own version of the famous balcony scene.  The platform is intuitive and it is easy to share your creations on social media. Without any prior knowledge of directing or Shakespearean text, you can create your own scene and experience what it feels like to “direct” a scene from a Shakespeare classic. You never know when you may get an opportunity to direct your own play or film in the future. Here’s your training ground. And you can’t go wrong!

Reimagined by well- known theatre director Roysten Abel the classic balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet has been shot in different locations – a modern day café, on a wooden staircase in a theatre, in   a locked room in an old ancestral home. By making a choice of actors, storylines, sets, costumes and music there are 24 ways in which you can “mix” this scene, every permutation and combination leading to an exciting new version.  The cast includes well-known film and theatre actors Adil Hussain, Kalki Koechlin,  Tushar Pandey and Kriti Pant.

You can then upload the scene “directed” by you on Facebook or Twitter and mark it to #ShakespeareLives and #MixThePlay. And  of course you can tag your friends. Come on what are you waiting for ? This could be the most fun way you send your love online to your Valentine!

Written by Vivek Mansukhani

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Authors from Bloody Scotland at the 2017 Kolkata Lit Festival

Bloody Scotland is an annual Crime Writers festival held in Stirling, Scotland, and sees participation from some well-known crime fiction authors from Scotland and India. Earlier in February, three Scottish authors participated in a series of sessions with Indian crime fiction authors to explore themes around crime writing:

Lin Anderson shares her experience of participating in the Kolkata Literature festival in this Blog post here  

My favourite memory was of a boy of about ten who had chosen his book from a selection of classics. Clutching it to his chest like a prize possession he was approaching the pay desk with a broad smile on his face.

Lin Anderson

Lin Anderson

Lin Anderson is best known as the author of a series of crime thriller novels and for her part in founding the annual ‘Bloody Scotland’ crime writing festival. Lin’s novel Paths of the Dead was shortlisted for the 2015 Scottish Crime Book of the Year award. Her novels have been published in translation in a number of countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden and Russia. Lin is also an award-winning scriptwriter, with her work broadcast internationally on radio and TV.




Doug Johnstone also writes about his time in Kolkata, dodging the traffic, meeting authors from India and gorging on masala omelettes in his blog here

Turns out we had a lot in common with our Kolkatan counterparts, and we learnt a lot about the crime scene there, as well as spreading the word about our own writing. Ideally, we ‘d love to have some Indian writers come over to Scotland in the future, and I hope we can make that happen.

Doug Johnstone. Picture: Chris Scott

Doug Johnstone. Picture: Chris Scott

Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. His eighth novel, Crash Land, was published by Faber & Faber in November 2016. His previous book, The Jump, was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Best Scottish Crime Novel. Doug has had short stories appear in various publications and anthologies.





Find out more about the Bloody Scotland Festival 


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David Leddy writing workshops in India

Being a writer is wonderful in many ways and frustrating in many ways. Words are very literal things. As Bjork says “words are useless, especially sentences.”  You can stretch language and manipulate it, that’s what I love to do. But it falls off a cliff pretty quick. The more obtuse your writing becomes the more it turns into linguistic soup. I often feel rather envious of visual artists for the freedom and ambiguity that the non-textual affords. It’s so much easier to be elliptical, indirect, atmospheric.

In November 2016 I came to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi and Kolkata to lead workshops for writers and to have a series of meetings with artists who I might collaborate with in the future. The British Council asked me to write a blogpost about it.

So, bearing in mind what I’ve described above, I decided that I would give you a visual essay, a series of atmospheres that sums up my trip in an indirect way. I hope you enjoy it.

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy


© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

Welcome home biscuits © David Leddy


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Sir Ian McKellen casts magic spell on Mumbai: launches Shakespeare on Film collection

Ian Mckellen addresses school children at the BD Somani school, Mumbai

Ian Mckellen addresses children at BD Somani school, Mumbai

The actor was in Mumbai between 23- 26 May, as a guest of the British Council and the British Film Institute, to launch the Shakespeare on Film Collection at the NCPA in Mumbai

Calm and collected. Sir Ian McKellen’s on-screen persona matches his real-life self. ‘Gandalf’ aka McKellen kicked-off his Shakespeare tour of India in the balmy weather of Mumbai, with an hour-long Twitter chat with fans from across the globe, on 22 May.

Having arrived the night before on a long-haul flight from London, McKellen was gracious enough to entertain questions from fans across the globe who enquired about his eating preferences to his favourite Shakespeare roles on-screen. Check out updates from the tweet chat here.

Having discovered Shakespeare “at the age of 9″, McKellen is known for his acting on stage in plays such as Macbeth, Henry IV; King Lear and Richard III. The next day, 23 May, he spent an entertaining evening, in-conversation with actor Aamir Khan at the NCPA, Mumbai.

With a full house, the nearly 1,000 audience members listened intently as both veterans discussed Shakespeare and acting influences.

It’s no surprise that McKellen is a master of the stage and that fact was exemplified when he delivered an impromptu performance of the Elizabethan play, Sir Thomas More, to a chorus of applause.

Ian McKellen with Robin Baker at the NCPA Mumbai talking about 'Richard III'

Ian McKellen with Robin Baker at the NCPA Mumbai talking about ‘Richard III’

The next day, McKellen screened his BFI classic RichardIII to a small gathering of Shakespeare fans from Mumbai.

The 108-minute screening was followed by a lively discussion on the influences behind the movie, between him and Robin Baker of the BFI!



Not just Shakespeare, McKellen is known for being a global LGBT rights celebrity having been vocal about his opinions from an early stage.

Ian at Kashish Opening Ceremony

Ian at Kashish Opening Ceremony

He was also the guest of honour at the Kashish MIQF festival on 25 May, where he also celebrated his 77th birthday with a cake-cutting ceremony. On the final day of his visit, Ian had a school engagement where he addressed children from the BD Somani school, who also staged a version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. 





Further Reading: 

Alan Gemmell talks about Ian McKellen visit, Shakespeare and the Digital Open Call  

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The gigantic world of Shakespeare

Young actor Riddhi Sen performs Shakespeare at the British Council in Kolkata

Young actor Riddhi Sen performs Shakespeare at the British Council in Kolkata

Actor Riddhi Sen, who was part of the Shakespeare Day celebrations at the British Council in Kolkata on 23 April 2016, writes on how it’s essential to keep performing and reinterpreting Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare wrote plays on kings, soldiers and empires but even now his work perfectly fits our surroundings. Surprising, but if we really look around it makes perfect sense.
As a citizen of West Bengal it’s really wonderful to see how Shakespeare has been adapted on screen and stage repeatedly in recent times. There seems to be an urgency to adapt Shakespeare. What’s more interesting is that his plays don’t require interpretation. They fit smoothly into any situation.
The great Utpal Dutt staged Macbeth in the time of Emergency. In recent times we’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare in Bengali film and theatre. I have been really privileged to be a part of the play Macbeth, directed by my father Koushik Sen. The play gained a lot of accolades, including a review by Andrew Dickson in the Guardian. What amazed me was how Macbeth defined the exact socio-political situation of 2012 Bengal. It’s really inspiring to see how Julius Caesar becomes the story of Kolkata’s underworld in Srijit Mukherji’s Zulfiqar.
This gives me confidence as an artist to find out how Shakespeare’s plays live and breathe in my surroundings. It creates an insatiable desire in me to be a part of this gigantic yet human world of Shakespeare. It creates a sense of urgency in me to work with his plays. Maybe I’m not mature enough but instinctively it forces me to deal with all his characters and bring them under one roof in the form of a play or film.
I was amazed and inspired when I saw Kashmir become the setting of ‘to be or not to be’ in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider. It’s really important for our generation to realise that it’s just not important to interpret Shakespeare but it’s a bigger responsibility to make the plays more approachable for the masses. It’s more important to uproot the notion that in order to understand Shakespeare it requires a great deal of knowledge and maturity.

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A Cultural Shift: Dan Daw of Candoco Dance Company on disability in dance

Dance artist, Dan Daw, recently spent 10 days touring India with Candoco Dance Company, performing Studies for C supported by the British Council. In this blog, he captures his thoughts, feelings and observations of his first trip to India

Studies For C performers, Dan Daw and Mirjam Gurtner in Chennai

Studies For C performers, Dan Daw and Mirjam Gurtner in Chennai

Incredible India. Before experiencing India for myself, I’d look at that slogan plastered to the entire surface of a London black cab with a cynicism asking, “How can an entire country be described as just ‘incredible’?” It is a slogan our taxi driver in Delhi would exclaim proudly as we’d stop, patiently waiting while a holy bull sauntered nonchalantly across a road in rush hour, or as we’d swerve out of the way of vehicles coming toward us in strategic attempts to expedite their journey.

Having been, I can now answer my own question of doubt and unknowing by saying, “Because that’s exactly what it is. In every sense of the word, India is incredible.”

It is indeed a difficulty to pinpoint the very thing that makes India so incredible, but if held to task, it would absolutely be the people. This would be confirmed as I departed Chennai, departed Kolkata and departed Delhi on our 10-day tour, finding myself thinking back to moments shared with new-found friends.

Connected to each performance of Studies for C by Javier de Frutos, a work we have been touring with on and off for almost four years, was a post-show discussion, which revealed just how sincere and genuinely interested in Candoco Dance Company’s work, approach and legacy the people in each of the three cities actually were.

Artiste Dan Daw (middle) in a post-show discussion with Dr Ambika Kameshwar (second from left) in Chennai

Artiste Dan Daw (middle) in a post-show discussion with Dr Ambika Kameshwar (second from left) in Chennai

Although clear that dance therapy was the broader understanding of inclusive dance practice, there was a sense of wanting to move beyond the notion that dance for disabled people was simply to ‘fix’ them.

How did our audiences respond? Our performance sparked debate and raised some interesting and key questions from within the Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi audiences and arts communities about how a cultural shift might be able to occur to allow perceptions to expand. As an artist and producer, I am interested in the traces my practice leaves behind; the ripples that remain long after the pool closes.

Studies For C in Delhi

Studies For C in Delhi

It is my hope, rather than expectation, that these traces provoke a shift in artistic and social consciousness.

How do we, as foreign artists, facilitate this shift in artistic and social consciousness?

In 10 days it is impossible to know what this shift is, let alone how to facilitate it, but with the foundation a series of performances, post-show discussions, press engagements and community workshops provides, a structure can now be built and I suspect construction will begin soon.


About Dan Daw:

Dan Daw

Dan Daw

Dan danced with Candoco for four years from 2010 until 2014 and worked as Assistant Creative Producer in 2013. He still performs with the company in Studies for C and Imperfect Storm.

He completed a Bachelor of Creative Arts at the Flinders University Drama Centre in 2004. And joined Restless Dance Company in 2002, performing in works by Ingrid Voorendt, Kat Worth, Daisy Brown, Michael Whaites, Garry Stewart, and Billie Cook.

In early 2006, Dan danced with UK company FRONTLINE dance in their 5th Anniversary Tour and in 2007 he performed with Scottish Dance Theatre as Guest Dancer in Adam Benjamin’s Angels of Incidence for their Spring Tour. In 2007/2008, Dan worked with Kate Champion’s Force Majeure performing in The Age I’m In for the 2008 Sydney and Adelaide Festivals.

READ: For more information on the Studies For C India tour, click here: 


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Kathryn Harkup: the secret poisons of Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie had most certainly one poison for every occasion. As her tally of “killings” in her novels reflects that a total of 100 killings out of 300 were committed by poison. As a former volunteer nurse in World War 1, Christie had gained extensive knowledge of her chemicals. No wonder she used them to good effect to eliminate her characters.

In her debut non-fiction book , A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie chemist Dr Kathryn Harkup reveals her passion and respect for the work of Agatha Christie.

In this blog post, Harkup shares some interesting trivia & lesser-known facts about Christie and her use of poison through her fiction series.

  • Christie used more poisons and more often than any other crime writer. Her toxic tally is over 30 different killer compounds. She killed over 300 characters, over 100 of them by poison. She consistently displays an impressively high degree of accuracy in her use of poisons.

    Kathryn Harkup

    Kathryn Harkup, author of “A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie”

Christie trained as an Apothecaries’ Assistant during WWI which made her very knowledgeable in chemistry as well as dangerous drugs and different prescriptions that were available. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, written when she was working in a hospital dispensary, used three drugs to kill the victim (bromide powders, a narcotic and strychnine). She was complimented on her accuracy by a reviewer in The Pharmaceutical Journal, a review she was said to cherish above all others.

  • Her novel The Pale Horse used thallium, a very unusual poison. The plot was similar to some aspects of a real-life poisoning case, Graham Young who poisoned several of his work colleagues with thallium, and it was suggested Christie may have inspired him but he always denied it. But the novel may have saved two lives because the accurate descriptions of thallium poisoning symptoms alerted doctors to the true cause of a young girl’s mysterious illness.
  • Christie often used real-life murder cases as inspiration for her plots. Aspects of the Dr Crippen poisoning case appear in Ordeal by Innocence. The arsenic in the cake in After the Funeral is similar to the Marie LaFarge case. The suspected arsenic poisoning in Murder is Easy is very similar to the Armstrong case.

*This post was contributed by Dr Kathryn Harkup who will present her session at the Crime Writers Festival at the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival on 15 January & on the 17 Jan at the Oxford Books store, Connaught Place, New Delhi.

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Daljit Nagra: Ramayana – A Retelling India tour

Daljit Nagra was in India between 25 November – 5 December on a touring promotion of his latest novel Ramayana: A Retelling . He performed extracts from his latest compelling read in front of packed audiences in venues across Bangalore, New Delhi, Chandigarh and Mumbai as part of the Times Lit Fest. He shares some moments from his journey on the road and interacting with young audiences. Some moments from his reading:

Daljit Nagra

Daljit Nagra

Bangalore, 25 November, 2015
Venue: Vidya Shilp Academy school
Timing: 9:00 am – 3 pm

I suspect I’m crossing no line of tact by saying the traffic situation is impossible in Bangalore. Not only are the roads teeming with cars, motor bikes and horn bleats but there is no concept of lane driving. Drivers find a gap and invent a lane then shuffle along the jam-packed roads. I imagine all this would cause frustration. That’s too polite. I imagine it’d cause rage, proper road rage! So when on my third day here, my driver has an accident, my first but no doubt not last of the trip, he knocks a motorbike and both drivers head from their vehicles for a showdown.

Daljit Nagra at the Vidya Shilp Academy school in Bangalore

Daljit Nagra at the Vidya Shilp Academy school in Bangalore

I look away fearing fisticuffs and expletives. Instead, when I look up the drivers are checking each other vehicles and noticing nothing much has happened. Then in the 30 degree heat they seem to be wearing wry benign looks and seem to be chatting as though they’re about to exchange addresses for a meet up. When they eventually part, they seem lit with smiles as they return back into the traffic.

This must be an example of that famous laid-back, affable geniality attributed to Bangaloreans. I’m left wondering, if there’s any chance of the DVLA inculcating this gentility into the next generation of our British drivers?

New Delhi, 30 November, 2015
Venue: Maidens Hotel
Session: Performance reading

At the Delhi Festival last night, I watched the great Indian poet, Jeet Thayil, author of Booker Prize shortlisted Narcopolis, read from his Collected Poems. After the reading I bought his book and whilst queuing for the autograph, I bumped into a girl and a boy. It turned out although they looked like lean teenagers they were in their early 20s. I asked them about their poetry reading at school and they said they’d read mostly British Romantic poets and so they knew of very few Indian poets who write in English.

Daljit Nagra in New Delhi

Daljit Nagra at a performance reading of “Ramayana… in New Delhi

I asked them whether they were poets and both said that they were performance poets. They’d independently and quietly been writing page poetry then one day they’d gone on Youtube and discovered the likes of B Zephaniah and K Tempest. These clips had changed their lives because they too wanted to be performance poets.



They had both quit studies in Law to see if they could homogenise performance poetry in India. Into an Indian Poetry Society. They now live in Bangalore and have been funded in this venture by a young start-up entrepreneur. They both believe young people are not being encouraged into individual expression of if they are writing poetry they have no outlet for it. So this young couple, Shantanu and Nandini, have been visiting campuses around the country to spot new talent and give them an online presence.


I said I’d pass on their emails to people I know at The Poetry Society in Great Britain and to Apples & Snakes. Perhaps we are able to support this valiant cause.

Chandigarh, 1-2 December
Venue: British Library; Vivek High School; Yadavindra Public School, Mohali
Timing: 3 pm 

I have returned to the land of my ancestors as a poet, for the first time. Whilst being driven around and at poetry readings I’ve found myself hearing Dylan Thomas’ chiasmus about his own background, Ah the land of my fathers; my fathers can keep it! I felt this most potently last night at a reading I gave in Chandigarh.

Daljit Nagra at Brtish Library N Chnadigargh

Daljit Nagra at the British Library in Chandigarh

The audience for my event was even gendered and well-balanced in age, from College students up to a few elderly individuals. Once I was introduced by the MC I duly took the podium but there were no customary applause. Only stony silence. So I thought I’d try and lighten the mood with a couple of my more humorous poems. Neither was there laughter at my best lines nor was there applause at the end of each poem. Instead, each spectator seemed to wear a brow-knitted angered look. On it went, the stony silence, the perplexed look from each viewer. Anyway, I stopped reading ahead of time because I suspected my reading was clearly unwanted. Perhaps it had offended.

Yet when I was asked for questions, I was flooded by a stream of insightful questions. The audience put up their hands and whilst still not smiling, at least there were many lovely questions about my work which went on for over 40 minutes. Even after the event had finished, several people came up to me to discuss poetic and political issues. These issues helped me deepen, and are helping me deepen an understanding of myself.

Audience members enjoy the reading session at the British Library

Audience members enjoy the reading session at the British Library

So what I learned about my ancestors: their serious looks are scary looks (which I must have worn all my life in England!), they don’t care for humour but only for deadly serious poetry, they are wonderfully brilliant listeners and supremely interiorised about their appreciation; they allow you to elicit their pleasure by asking you brilliant questions.

I am proud to say the land of my fathers is a land I’d like to keep close to my heart. Next time I read in Punjab, I’ll come fully prepared to treat the silent treatment as a sign of affection.

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“Twelfth Night is about the madness of love”: Oliver Dimsdale, Filter theatre

Oliver Dimsdale, artistic director, Filter theatre on turning around a 400-year-old script and using a music and sound to keep the theatre experience live

  • Why is the production staged almost like a rehearsal? Why is it so minimal on stage?

When we made the show we only had 10 days to rehearse it, and a limited amount of money. This limited us to a smaller number of actors and meant that we didn’t have the budget for an expensive set. That’s why we have double roles with some actors.

“If music be the food of love, play on” is the first line of Twelfth Night. The play is about every form of love, and we interpreted that in as many forms of music and song too. We knew we were going to work with music and sound, the text, and the actors, so why make it any more than that?
If there is a design, or a concept behind the rehearsal aesthetic of the show, it is that there is a band on stage. They are Orsino’s band, helping him to find that ‘strain’ that unlocks the key to Olivia’s heart. They are also the band in Olivia’s household – Feste’s band perhaps. In that respect all we need is the equipment that a band has.

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night by Filter theatre ©Robert Day

  • How did the idea of ‘Filter’s Twelfth Night’ come about?

We got invited to go and be part of the RSC’s Complete Works after we’d performed Caucasian Chalk Circle for the National Theatre London, and they offered us a full rehearsal period. We said we’d like to approach Twelfth Night. Because there was no pressure on us, we were only going to do three performances up in Stratford for their Complete Works Festival and it was a tiny little footnote in the big, grand programme of the RSC.

Oliver Dimsdale, artistic director, Filter theatre

Oliver Dimsdale, Artistic Director, Filter Theatre

Twelfth Night’s definitely Shakespeare’s most lyrical play and Sean Holmes (the director) suggested that we use the Filter process to free ourselves of the shackles that can plague more traditional Shakespeare productions. The ethos was really ‘Let’s chuck the play into the room, add sound designers and brilliant actors and a me, and let’s just see what comes out of the process’, and sure enough sometimes when you’re using the gut and the heart instead of the head for inspiration, irreverent, interesting and dynamic things can come out of it.

  • You started off with six actors. How did you go about casting it and making those decisions?

A couple of suggested doublings from Sean were brilliant. The Fool and Maria (a double) both have huge vendettas against Malvolio and have good reasons to want to exact a revenge so at the point at which you see the Fool putting the nose on Malvolio at the end, there are echoes of Maria’s revenge as well in laying the letter down.

Andrew Aguecheek and Orsino (again, a double) are both in love with the same woman, so there were many echoes which was the point. And the Viola/ Sebastian double is obviously a very tricky double, but we think it adds a really lovely ambiguity and innuendo, a ‘ménage à trois’ going on with all these people that are chasing one person.

Twelfth Night by Filter Theatre ©Robert Day

Twelfth Night by Filter Theatre ©Robert Day

  • What is the significance of using so many microphones and sound technology?

In our production of Twelfth Night we use the natural voice, the amplified voice (microphones), the distorted voice (reverberated through use of a ‘memory man’ distortion machine), and a pre-recorded voice (i.e. the Shipping Forecast on the radio).

Sound is very important to Filter, though very often not central to many other theatre productions, where it’s very often tacked on to the end of a rehearsal process. Filter shows have sound design and music at the very heart of the action on stage because we work very closely with sound designers and composers.

If you show the sound being created on stage, we think it frees the audience to think beyond the boundaries of theatre, whereas if you simply hear sound effects or music on stage whilst not seeing where and who is creating it, it feels like you are trying to con the audience that the play, or the scene, is happening in a particular period or environment.

In Filter shows there is always a playfulness and an honestly about the relationship between the actor, the story and the sound designer on-stage that we believe is an exciting ‘live’ aspect to theatre. It’s about keeping the experience of theatre as live as possible, not always so pre-recorded, or second-hand.

  • Why does the actor playing Sir Toby Belch wear traditional Elizabethan costume?

The idea came from when I originally played Sir Toby 10 years ago. When we’d done the first performance, I’d been sitting around on stage, like the rest of the cast, in jeans and a T-shirt, and it just didn’t seem to work for me personally, as well as with Belch being an anarchic whirlwind who is constantly disrupting Olivia’s household, causing mayhem.

So I took myself off to the RSC Costume department and fitted myself in a clichéd Elizabethan doublet and hose, and ruff. Nobody else knew about this, and no one on stage knew what I was going to do. I made sure I had a can of Special Brew (beer) and there was food hidden everywhere around the stage. During the performance I entered and exited the stage whenever I wanted to during the scenes.

Twelfth Night by Filter Theatre ©Robert Day

Twelfth Night by Filter Theatre ©Robert Day

We wanted to get away from the cliched portrayal of Belch. We wanted him to be real – as real as possible – by having a young Sir Toby Belch dressed in doublet and hose searching for alcohol, to embrace what the character is about. He’s desperately looking for the next drink to forget his woes.”
The really interesting thing about the experiment was that not only was it demonstrating the destructive element in Belch with Olivia’s household, but there was also the notion of there being the remnants of this 400-year-old text that we were speaking and that this is the way that it was done originally but with a bit of a twist because he’s got a can of Special Brew and he’s genuinely drunk.

The play is about the madness and wonder of love. Every character is in love with, or loved by, another character, in many different ways. It is also his most lyrical play, and hence the amount of different types of music in our show.

  • Where do you draw the line between interpretation and adaptation when approaching Twelfth Night?

The play is called Twelfth Night, or What You Will, and the production draws inspiration from both the title and the subtitle. We interpret and adapt from the original, but never at the expense of the robust emotional heart of Shakespeare’s play. The first version of the production was a response to Twelfth Night, and in many ways that’s what it still is, but we are actually incredibly faithful to the linear structure of Shakespeare’s original play.

This post was contributed by Oliver Dimsdale, artistic director, Filter Theatre. Find out about Twelfth Night tour dates in your city.

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