DIVERSE work across multiple platforms has established Raj Ghatak as one of the best British Asian actors.
The versatile performer, with a chameleonlike ability to transform himself, is currently in the cast of The Father and the Assassin, which has returned for another successful run at the National Theatre in central London. The acclaimed theatre play adds to his wide variety of stage work.
Eastern Eye got the terrific talent to select his top 10 theatre moments.
Seeing 42nd Street on stage at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, as a child: This show opened my eyes and made me realise I wanted to be an actor. The sheer size and scale of this show were epic, especially to watch as a child. It inspired something within me, thinking ‘I want to do that when I grow up’. I’m so pleased that I get to do it.
Appearing in The Father and The Assassin:I saw this play last year and it blew my mind. Written by Anupama Chandrasekhar and directed by Indhu Rubasingham with a cast of 20 South Asians on the Olivier stage, it tells the story of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi from the assassin Nathuram Godse’s perspective. This play galvanised me so much when I saw it. I laughed and cried in equal measure and felt a huge sense of pride seeing our story on the main stage of the National Theatre. It’s an incredible play and we’ve had great reviews and standing ovations.
Life of Pi in at Wyndhams Theatre: I was in the original production of the show at the Sheffield Crucible in 2019. The great show won 10 awards and was set to come to the West End in early 2020. Then the pandemic turned everything upside down. We didn’t know if the show would have another life, but it opened to five-star reviews. The show went on to win five Olivier awards including best new play. Lolita Chakrabarti wrote the winning adaption and Hiran Abeysekera (who’s playing Godse now) won best actor. Three cast members from Life of Pi, Hiran, Nicholas Khan and myself, are now in The Father and the Assassin.
Winning an Eastern Eye ACTA award for The Kite Runner: In 2018 I played the challenging lead role of Amir in The Kite Runner on stage. It’s an enormous role, never leaving the stage for two and a half hours, flipping in and out of a US and Farsi accent. I had to age from a child to a man and recount several harrowing details. I was unable to attend the ceremony, as I was on stage in Belfast. But I was thrilled to win.
Playing Sweetie in Bombay Dreams in the West End: This ground-breaking musical was ahead of its time. I am still so proud of my ‘best supporting performance in a musical’ nomination by What’s on Stage. This first-of-its-kind show broke through the glass ceiling and ran for two years at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. I played a hijra (eunuch) called Sweetie, one of the lead roles. For many, it was the first time the west was introduced to a character like this, but Asians recognised her immediately. The Queen saw this show, I met her and she enjoyed it very much. To this day, people tell me how much that show meant to them and how it inspired them to become actors.
Seeing Dance Theatre of Harlem perform at Sadlers Wells Theatre: I was lucky enough to be invited to see this incredible dance troupe perform in London after a hiatus of 14 years. They were sensational. I realised it was the first time I’d seen people of colour dance ballet. It was a ground-breaking moment for me, because I realised that’s how kids felt when they came to see Bombay Dreams (it was at the same time). I’d never seen any Black or Asian ballet dancers and was so moved, I cried. It cemented a lot of things for me, regarding visual representation and its importance.
Seeing Mark Rylance in Jerusalem at the Royal Court Theatre: His central performance was extraordinary in this original production. Written by Jezz Butterworth, I saw it with a £10 ticket and the skill in his performance was exquisite. The running time was nearly three hours with two intervals and it flew past. It was a magical night at the theatre.
Being at the Royal Court Theatre: The first time I played the Royal Court I was in Free Outgoing, written by Anupama Chandrasekhar and directed by Indhu Rubasingham (the powerhouse duo behind The Father and the Assassin). It was a brilliant play set in India based on true events about a sex scandal of an underage girl that hits a single parent family, played exceptionally by Lolita Chakrabarti. This theatre is so special and telling our story on that stage was incredible.
Watching The Little Big Things at Soho Place: This recent experience was transformative. Based on a true story, it’s the first West End musical written by a disabled person for a disabled actor in a leading role. It’s positive and uplifting. You’ll laugh, cry and cheer. The show is on now and I strongly urge you to book ticets. I saw the first preview and the roof was nearly blown off with cheers and applause.
Being in West Side Story: This happened quite a while ago. To appear in my favourite musical in the West End is the stuff of dreams. I played Chino, Maria’s intended boyfriend, who shoots Tony (spoiler). To hear that music and sing those songs eight shows a week was pure heaven. Also, as an Indian actor to play Puerto Rican was fun too.
The Father and the Assassin at Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9PX until next Saturday (14). www.nationaltheatre.org.uk