“Women come, women go. We pamper them, preen them, make them beautiful. Make small talk. Never know what’s really under their skin.”
As women flit in and out of the Lotus Beauty Salon in Southall, the trains speeding past above remind salon-goers of the suicides on those tracks.
The play is set at the Lotus Beauty Salon in Southall with the story exploring the trauma of multi-generational women through its five central characters, Reita, Tanwant, Kamal, BD (Big Dadhi) and Pinky.
Reita, the salon’s owner, is desperate to leave Southall. Moving the salon to a more affluent area would fulfil an aspiration that, she believes, her community can’t give her. Reita’s haste to leave Southall leaves her salon worker, Tanwant afraid of losing her job. Without a ‘UK husband,’ how will she be able to stand on her feet, independently?
Reita’s relationship with the community is explored through her contentious relationships with her daughter Pinky and mother-in-law BD. Whilst there is familial love, there is a lack of compassion for each other's experiences.
Amongst the angst of the loud characters there is Kamal, a quiet and reserved client. She secretly cleans the salon after hours so her family don’t find out about her job, living reclusively to the very community she is imprisoned by.
Initially each character is wrapped up in their own lives and problems. However, as the play progresses, it begins to unravel the layers of the trauma that is affecting them all and how connected they all are to each other through the complicity in each other’s suffering.
From left to right: Kiran Landa (Reita), Anshula Bain (Pinky), Souad Faress (Big Dhadhi)
Left: Zainab Hasan (Tanwant), Right: Ulrika Krishnamurti (Kamal)
Satinder Chohan gives a voice to the often marginalised cohort of the community. In 2007, when Chohan originally penned this play, it was revealed that 80 out of 270 railway deaths occurred on a stretch of tracks in Southall. Chohan revealed that she was “worried that this play would be out of date, but it's unfortunate that many of the issues are still incredibly relevant and more so after covid.” Lotus Beauty spotlights immigrant colonial trauma and the women who have carried its weight, exploring the consequences of not healing on the individual and the community.
Ulrika Krishnamurti (Kamal) on her character: “[Kamal is] desperately seeking connection, the salon provides this, and the idea, as an actor has been interesting to be on your own planet, Kamal is so lonely and isolated, it was interesting to inhabit that and see what that feels like and to give myself permission to draw boundaries.”
With a vision of what it means to be successful in the UK, each woman is plagued by the complexity of their trauma in trying to achieve that. Each character is deeply lonely and isolated, the play unravels their individual predicaments through the themes of domestic violence, suicide, trauma and bereavement. An underpinning theme which surfaces, bringing a commonality amongst them, is ‘the UK dream’.
This is brought to life by the cast who cleverly use humour and drama to depict the conflict within themselves and their community. It is through this idea of ‘the UK dream’ that the audience can find their own stories of persistence, pain and failure hidden within the characters.
Anshula Bain (Pinky) says this has been cathartic for her to explore as an actor, “On the surface Pinky is fun and bubbly and the contention with her mother has been healing with my own relationship with my mum, being an immigrant parent with her own generational trauma”
One of the most powerful parts of the play was when Souad Faress (Big Dadhi) gives her epic monologue showcasing the trauma endured by South Asian women in the 70s when virginity tests were conducted by British immigration officials, to allow entry into Britain. This story, being told by someone who experienced this themselves, was truly captivating.
Today, we can learn about this history through a younger generation. In a community where talking about trauma is rare, Faress brought to life the humiliation and indignity women have faced barring their right to this country.
“It’s [a] challenging play but it’s authentic, written from the heart, of our culture and community, written through lived experiences female centered.”
The cast successfully executes the experiences of multigenerational women in the South Asian community. In two and a half hours, the play extraordinarily explores the depth of each character. The audience undertakes a journey with the characters of their hopes and desires being unravelled by unhealed trauma. The shock ending even depicts how non-linear healing can be.
Chohan says that this play is for everyone, for those who know the story and those who don’t. “...Even if you know these characters and story and, it is as much for this audience and for those who have never heard of these characters before,” Chohan says, “it’s [a] challenging play but it’s authentic, written from the heart, of our culture and community, written through lived experiences female centered.”
This play should be seen by everyone, leaving you with a deep appreciation for the women overlooked in our communities. Nominated for five awards with the Offies, see Lotus Beauty at Hampstead Theatre until the 18th of June and give homage to the stories of our women.
Playwright Satinder Chohan
Director Pooja Ghai
Designer Rosa Maggiora
Lighting Designer Matt Haskins
Sound Designer The Ringham Brothers
Dialect Coach Gurkiran Kaur
Assistant Director Cassia Thakkar
Cast Anshula Bain, Souad Faress, Zainab Hasan, Ulrika Krishnamurti, Kiran Landa
Presented in association with Tamasha Theatre Company
Dates: Friday 13 May – Saturday 18 June 2022
Social Distanced Matinee Performances: Thursday 26 May & Saturday 4
Social Distanced Evening Performances: Wednesday 25 May & Tuesday 7 June
Address: Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London, NW3 3EU
Box Office: 020 7722 9301 (Mon – Sat 10.30am - 7pm) | hampsteadtheatre.com
Priya wants to encourage public discourse, particularly within the South Asian community, to spark debate, share new perspectives, and educate. She is passionate about encouraging individuals to engage with their culture and identities in a way that is authentic to them. Professionally, Priya works in Public Policy at a national children’s charity, lobbying change for vulnerable children across England. Outside of work, she is an Ambassador for the Pad Project, advocating to break the stigma surrounding menstruation. You can follow her work on twitter.