PROVOKING DEBATE: A scene from The Relunctant Fundamentalist


by LAUREN CODLING

THE director of a critically acclaimed play which had its premiere in Edinburgh this week has said its themes are more relevant than ever in today’s political climate.

Prasanna Puwanarajah, 32, is the director of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Adapted from Mohsin Hamid’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel of the same name, the production debuted in Edinburgh on Tuesday (14).

It tells the story of a young Asian man who retells his journey in America post the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Analysing the themes of identity of young people in an “internationally fractured” world, The Reluctant Fundamentalist explores a wide range of issues including exclusion, the ironies of prejudices and misrepresentation.

Following a successful run in London in 2016-17 and in Bradford last month, the play is “growing each time we do it”, Puwanarajah told Eastern Eye last Wednesday (8).

“Each time we come back to this story, we see the world has moved on and not in a good direction,” Puwanarajah said.

“Not in a direction towards any kind of further understanding of how we treat people who are on the move and migrating in the world.”

Prasanna Puwanarajah is the director of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

With political events such as Brexit and the election of US president Donald Trump still being part of national conversations, Puwanarajah believes the narrative is more important than ever.

“It feels like national unrest has grown since we first performed it,” he said.

Puwanarajah stressed that understanding the issues within the original source and what it was attempting to convey to audiences was important.

In his view, the story articulates the impact of a major event in the world on an individual who is living away from home or in a third culture.

“You are suddenly a foreign person,” Puwanarajah explained.

It is not necessarily an experience many people will have had, so he is keen that the play presents an experience that audiences can understand about how it feels to be in an unsettling position.

“Like any piece of theatre, it offers that insight into how it feels to be walled off and damaged because of events fundamentally out of your control,” he said.

The production is part of the National Youth Theatre (NYT) 2018 season. Puwanarajah, who sits on the NYT board, believes engagement with young people in the arts is vital.

According to a BBC survey from January, creative arts subjects are struggling to be prioritised in schools.

Out of the 40 per cent of secondary schools in the country which were surveyed, nine in every 10 said they had to cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject.

Creative art subjects, such as drama or music, being part of the curriculum shouldn’t be up for negotiation, Puwanarajah believes.

“I think our ability to ask questions about the world, to broaden experience, to open our eyes and our hearts to lives that aren’t necessarily our lives, but are connected to ours, are all things exposure to the arts can give young people,” he stressed. “[Exposure to the creative arts] feels necessary and NYT is there to put that opportunity into that space.”

He hopes after the audience watches the show, they engage with members of the cast and the writers, saying that it will encourage people to get involved and find out more about NYT.

“The NYT is a place people can come and explore a way of telling their own stories,” he said. “That’s a big part of the reason I work with the organisation – to keep that line of opportunity open.”

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is on at the Edinburgh Festival, Summerhall, until next Sunday (26)