An upcoming play exploring the British Asian drag community, uncovering the untold stories of men who don female personas by night, will be the company’s most provocative yet, its artistic director said.
Miss Meena and the Masala Queens follows the story of drag queen Miss Meena, whose nightclub has fallen on hard times. Just as a new face arrives with a glimmer of hope, however, Miss Meena finds himself in a moral dilemma.
Director Pravesh Kumar, who is also artistic director of Rifco theatre company, described the play as “another part of the journey” for the organisation, which has focused on uncovering the untold stories of the British Asian community.
He is hoping the play will not only bring Rifco to a new audience but also expose its existing audience to a segment of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) community that many still look down upon.
“We’ve built a trust relationship with quite a large British Asian audience who don’t normally go to the theatre. We’re in a good position now to talk about something that’s more difficult and that people probably wouldn’t normally see,” Kumar said.
Kumar and writer Harvey Virdi spent the past 18 months interviewing members of London’s LGBT community, using those conversations to develop the stage play in order to ensure its authenticity. The story, Kumar said, will look “beyond the sequins” and into the personal lives of its characters.
During the casting process, Kumar said he reached out to members of the Asian drag community, one of whom will be working with the costume department.
Although hijra, the transgender community of south Asia – who gained recognition as a “third gender” by the supreme court of India in 2014 – have been portrayed on screen since the early days of Indian cinema, few works have explored the concept of gender identity among the Asian diaspora in a western context.
“It’s important for everyone to have their stories told; so we can feel valued and like we’re a part of society,” Kumar said.
“There’s been some great work in the past few years [exploring gender identity], but very few I think talking about it as part of the British Asian experience.
“In the South Asian community there will be people who do not agree with it, I know that, but I think it’s an important story to tell. It’s not an offensive work; it’s quite a lovely story and I think people will be pleasantly surprised by it.”
Miss Meena and the Masala Queens will premiere at the Watford Palace Theatre in north-west London on May 9, where it will run until May 13 before touring Coventry, Windsor, Southampton and Leeds. For more information, see www.rifcoarts.com