Trafalgar Transformed: a chat with the cast of Richard III and East is East

Trafalgar Transformed is a season of plays at Trafalgar Studios, which began this summer with Richard III, starring Martin Freeman. East is East, starring Jane Horrocks and Ayub Khan Din, begins its run on 4 October and I was lucky enough to go along to Trafalgar Studios for the handover event.

Unsurprisingly, the first question from the crowd covered the recent controversy over the use of a live goldfish in Richard III. “No goldfish were harmed in the making of this play”, Lloyd confirmed, before explaining that he is of course a fan of making sure that all stage violence is realistic as possible. The cast supported this statement, jovially proclaiming that the goldfish are, in fact, treated better than they are.

Moving swiftly on…

Artistic director Jamie Lloyd puts an emphasis on the season as not just a series of individual plays, but rather a “bigger picture” in which each production is part of the company. This, he says, is emphasised by the number of events they hold around the plays, and also £15 Mondays, for which all seats in the auditorium are priced at a far lower level than traditional West End pricing. In fact, Lloyd is particularly passionate about Mondays at the Studios: 61% of the audience are apparently first-time theatregoers, which creates a “buzz…excitement and electricity”.

He talks about Trafalgar as “a theatre of no airs and graces” where new and increasingly diverse audiences are coming back time and time again. Young people from different communities and backgrounds are attracted by the “hip-ness” of the place, although Lloyd is quick to clarify that it’s not hip “in a pretentious way”. Maggie Steed, who plays Queen Margaret in Richard III says that it’s clear that this audience is really listening, making it a pleasure to perform for them (rather than a more, perhaps, cynical or weathered West End audience). She goes on to say that as actors, it gives more meaning to one’s work, by pushing these boundaries.

Trafalgar Transformed is described as “a season of politically-charged, socially conscious theatre” and this runs very apparent in the discussions of both Richard III and East is East, from both the directors and casts. Lloyd explains that it’s not about making money, even though this is the biggest challenge in the long run, particularly when committed to accessible pricing.

East is East.
The much-loved film comes to the stage starring Ayub Khan Din and Jane Horrocks as husband and wife, George and Ella Khan. Ashley Kumar, who plays son Tariq, tells us – with much agreement from the rest of the cast – that the film was something he grew up on, particularly as someone from a mixed race background growing up in the UK.

The play is just as, if not more, relevant today than when it was written almost 20 years ago, and it’s a play that accurately examines the relationships in all families, not just Asian families, as Lloyd attests to. Khan Din adds that it’s a play very much about identity: how far do you let children be influenced by the country they’ve come to? Not only does this question reference being British-Pakistani, but perhaps even more importantly, being Pakistani and northern (the play being set in Salford). These are issues Khan Din dealt with growing up, and by playing a character he wrote based on his own father, the entire thing is, perhaps unimaginably, close to his own heart. Director Sam Yates explains that having the writer involved gives the play an “ultimate authenticity”. Indeed, while Khan Din admits that the situations and conversations have been “intellectualised”, the story and characters are entirely autobiographical.

One thing’s for sure: you can see the comradery amongst – and between – the two casts. It really is a community of actors, and they’re all very proud to be a part of Trafalgar Transformed. Maggie Steed affirms the commitment they have to the project. There’s a “rough and readiness” to the season, she says, “no one gives less than 100%”. And you wouldn’t get that for a lesser project.

And what’s next, you ask? New season, newly commissioned plays. Well that’s certainly something to look forward to. In the meantime, East is East opens on 4 October. You can get tickets here.