“I was brought up white, but I’m brown” last night I went to the theatre for the first time since the pandemic closed them and watched an amazing piece. A piece created by people who I met as a result of networking and collaboration through work, though now I can safely say they are good friends and that I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for them and what they’ve taught me. Last night was no exception.
The work of Bent Architect is always thought provoking and last night’s piece #FullEnglish did not fail to make me laugh, cry and reflect my on own personal experiences. It’s definitely worth seeing, in fact I walked out with my best friend and us both agreeing that everyone in Bradford needs to watch this. I’ll try my best not to spill any spoilers as I write but forgive me if I do because I’m very excited and passionate about what I watched.
You see Full English is about me, well it isn’t at all, but then again it is. It’s telling the story of writer and actor and amazing strong woman Natalie and her Nan. Nan is a legend and Nat is certainly following in her footsteps. It’s a tale about race, equality, mixed race, discrimination, multicultural society, coping and surviving adversity, mental illness and dementia but most importantly love. So much love, the love between mothers and daughters, granddaughters and the love between two partners, man and wife from totally different cultural backgrounds, forbidden and frowned upon love. The love between the women on an estate pulling together to cope and survive together. The love we all need and how that love was there and helped the generations of family in the story told hey through every challenge they faced due to racial discrimination and stereotyping.
You see when the line was said, “I was brought up white but I’m not I’m brown” I sat up. I internally went, “Yes!! Me too!” Because I was. No disrespect to my parents and my Granny but I was. When I ever suffered any racial comments I was told, “but you are English” which yes I was, my citizenship has always been British. But I’m also Indian and as an adult now I proudly call myself mixed race and embrace my Indian culture even more so since Poppa M left us. Yet I spent most of my childhood quashing it, almost pretending to be white, but why? Why was I embarrassed and ashamed? Watching Full English made me think a lot about how I guess for a lot of my life I’ve not been filling confident in my identity and that actually all my life everyone has had an opinion on what it should be or what I should “class” myself as. Yet if you’re “Full English” no one every discusses that with you in the same way or if you are “white” with a British accent it doesn’t get questioned.
The piece has been well written and directed and now that’s not my bias towards the company and artists. It was. Fact. They seamlessly flitted between time periods and the experiences of Nat and her Nan almost mimicking the traits and symptoms of patient with dementia, having memories and recollections. Like I say though, the transition was smooth and the small details of items, key lines, sound effects and projected images pulled everything together. Showing how connected, clearly linked and influential everything that each character experienced and felt, was on every generation and how this helped the story unfold. It highlighted how we think everything has changed and improved in multicultural Bradford and yet at the same time it hasn’t. We’re still dealing with the same tensions and issues that occurred in the 60s and 70s. We’re still dealing with the aftermath and issues that caused the Bradford riots. It’s still an issue and sorry but if you think we’re not then you’re talking total and utter bollocks. Otherwise why have both Nat and I been asked why our daughters are white and we’re not. Why are we told that we’re not Full English? And why do some people not like it when these issues are raised, why does it make them feel uncomfortable and why have I sometimes refrained from writing about race? Why else was this performance created and shared?
The main character in the piece was a single mum. She raised children on her own in what sounded like a community that all had it’s challenges but faced them together. I needed to hear that. It’s not easy doing it alone and it’s not easy over coming adversity. Nan did that, the community she lived in helped her, they married Pakistani men and were shunned by families on both sides of the marriage leaving them to all pull together. This mimics some of my experience. I married into a Full English family but was shunned not because of my race (although they did have a dislike of that too) but because I dared to call out abusive behaviour. I dared to stand up and say “no I won’t tolerate this!” I was just shunned by them though, I’ve lost friends and some people have distanced themselves from me as a result of it. Not openly, but once the abuse I experienced all came out certain people took a big step back away from me, similar to how Nan in Bent Architect’s piece had people disagree with her relationship and choice to have children with a Pakistani man. But she did, just as I have, gain a supportive community that got her through, they say it takes a village to raise a child and it’s true and we both have that.
Nan is strong and Nat is strong because both stand up for what they believe in. They’re good mothers because they do what is right for their children. Nan’s character in the piece is so symbolic of strong mother’s doing what is right by their children and not letting society’s stereotyping and perceived expectations rule over good quality parenting and unconditional love.
I needed to see this piece last night. Not only because it’s been far too long since I’ve been on a theatre but because for far too long I’ve not always allowed myself to be me. Only recently have I unashamedly owned my cultural background…well I say that but then there’s a bit of me that still refrains from fully and openly admitting how connected I feel to India and that aspect of my heritage. I’ve always felt I had to “be more white” and through some hilarious jokes but also dark and heartfelt moments, Full English expresses that too, that pressures from everywhere can make you feel like you’ve to conform to one or other of the cultures. Like you don’t fit, and sorry but at the risk of sounding self righteous and difficult, unless you are mixed race, you’ll never get it. You really won’t because you’ve never had to define which camp you reside in, the white one or the brown one. Yes it is that simple and it is that expected, when asked “where you are from?” there’s a silent expectation that you’ll go beyond saying mixed race and will define yourself and one of the “sides” but also you’re not allowed to be classed as Full English.
Last night was brilliant, it was well written, well directed and outstandingly performed. I needed to see it, for the laughter, for the fun, for the artistry and for the self reflection and emotion. It meant so much, to me as a person, as a mum, as a teacher, as an artist and because I’m not Full English.