Theatre preview: Brief Encounters

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Bradford theatre company Freedom Studios present powerful cross-cultural site-specific pieces – their latest opens next week. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Next week Bradford Interchange – a meeting point for trains, buses, taxis and people working there or passing through – will be transformed into a theatre space as the city’s Freedom Studios stage their latest production Brief Encounters.

A series of five loosely connected stories, the play will take audiences on a journey – both literal and emotional – around the Interchange as people from different cultures, communities and backgrounds interact with each other, briefly, and are changed by their experience.

“Celebrating Bradford has always been part of our mission statement,” says Tom Wright, who is directing the production. “We are based in the city and we are not attached to a theatre so we very often make shows that are in other spaces. We have run a writers’ programme – Street Voices – for a few years now so we contacted writers we had trained and said that we wanted to do a new show about Bradford, that involved different communties and that was not in a theatre.”

One of those who got in touch was Sheffield-based radio producer Rav Sanghera who had attended one of the writing courses. He suggested the setting of the Interchange. “Once I got approval for the idea I started spending time there watching people and talking to them,” he says. “I also contacted various community groups Bradford. Then I started to create the five stories. They are all inspired by things I saw or overheard or people I spoke to.”

He points out that this is not, however, a verbatim piece. The development process took around two years as Sanghera and Wright with the help of dramaturg Aisha Khan – recently appointed alongside Alex Chisholm as one of the company’s two new co-artistic directors – sifted through the interviews that Sanghera had conducted and later workshopped the pieces with actors.

One of the most affecting encounters that Rav experienced himself at the Interchange was meeting a woman who during the course of their conversation told him about her struggle with depression. “The idea of sharing such a personal truth about yourself – it was very profound. A lot more goes on in this place apart from people catching buses and trains.”

The stories in Brief Encounters include two old friends meeting on the way to a school reunion, two bus drivers who have got to know each other during a training course and whose fledgling relationship may have the potential to grow into something romantic, a businessman encoutering an asylum seeker and a young Polish boy who strikes up a conversation with an elderly lady.

“The title Brief Encounters is important because that’s all these interactions are,” says Sanghera. “There is so much more to be said about these encounters. You might have had a short interaction with someone but you are left with so many questions.”

Wright and Sanghera are both outsiders to Bradford and each has embraced its unique and special character. “One of the things I’ve noticed in my three years as associate director at Freedom Studios is that the people of Bradford take an immense pride in being part of such a diverse city,” says Wright. “And that is a big part of what the show is about.”

Sanghera adds: “I hope the piece is about hope and optimism, that’s how I feel, in some ways, about Bradford itself. And the Interchange is such an unsung place. You just have to sit down and watch and you see these casts of characters everywhere. There is theatre in operation there more or less every day – these moments are happening all the time.”

* Brief Encounters, Bradford Interchange, October 6-10. Performances at 1.45pm, 2.05pm, 2.25pm, 7pm, 7.40pm, 8pm and 8.20pm. Tickets £10/£5. www.freedomstudios.co.uk

* The production is a relay piece so although shows start every 20 minutes, the performance lasts an hour. Meet outside the railway ticket office 10 minutes before the start time.

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