Belarus Free Theatre’s Red Forest research expedition: From Kolkata to Mumbai

Seven days in to their trip and Red Forest’s choreographer Bridget Fiske and lighting designer Andrew Crofts head to Mumbai for the next part of their research expedition.


image[1]BF:  An early morning walk and the streets of Kolkata were more peaceful. We walked the hour or so to Kalighat.

AC:  The temple was colourful and busy with traders selling flowers, red powder and coloured twine for making offerings. At one end of the sanctum was a room for sacrifices, the floor stained red from flowers, powder and blood. A couple of unsuspecting goats garlanded with flowers waited outside.

BF:  Inside the temple a Brahman man started to share the story of the temple. The temple is adorned with three crowns, creation, preservation and destruction. It is perhaps obvious but interesting to think of these in relationship to Red Forest. As I travel I am trying to understand more about individuals and community’s spirituality and its relationship to nature as well as patterns and cycles in life.

AC:  We then raced to catch our flight to Mumbai having squeezed all this in to the morning. Arriving in Mumbai was a huge shift, the levels of development and urbanisation are so striking here with Asia’s largest slum, the world’s most expensive property and everything in between fighting for space on this compact peninsula.


image003[5]AC:  This morning we headed over to the The Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS) an entire university dedicated to the postgraduate study of a variety of subjects from a position of social science and with an emphasis on social justice. They also house the Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management.

BF:   Surinder Jaswal was our first meeting. Surinder shared with us about the work of TISS, how they define disaster (from personal, through to natural, through to terrorism), how their work in social sciences is understanding the impacts of disaster on vulnerable communities. We were joined by her colleague from the Disaster Management Centre who informed us of mental health impacts and concerns in mental health support offered to people who have experienced disaster. From this meeting we were then able to travel the campuses meeting varying experts in their respective fields, this included experts in food security, mining and cyclone history.

AC:     For the second time on this trip I was left with a sore brain after meeting such remarkable minds. It felt like all the knowledge and research being accumulated in this university had a real social purpose and goes on to make a real impact in society, visibly improving things for people on the ground and improving the ways in which governments and NGOs respond to disasters and ongoing problems.


Day 9BF:  In the trusted hands of Zachary Coffin, a film and theatre artist who also works for Amnesty International, we saw Mumbai through a local lens. We were taken to Versova Jetty, a fishing village that has the mega city of Mumbai looking over its shoulder, encroaching on and changing the way this community engages with their environment. There were also clear rubbish and water degradation issues.

AC: We spent the afternoon making contacts with some NGOs to help arrange tomorrow’s activities and then headed off for a meeting with Garima, a local journalist and editor. Our taxi driver managed to get a flat tyre, change it, have a crash with an auto-rickshaw and then a somewhat heated debate with its owner but still get us across town in just a little over two hours in the afternoon rush hour.

BF:  Garima shared with us many perspectives on many issues. The conversation seemed to continue to draw out the environmental issues of Mumbai. Garima also shared her account of the 2005 Mumbai floods that took the lives of 1000 people. It’s hard to hear when things could have been avoided that would make a difference to whether someone lives or dies when disaster hits. The more I listen to the story of Mumbai, the more I realise that climate change (including the changing of culture) and disaster are happening here in a very localised but magnified way.

More on Bridget and Andrew’s experience can be found on BFT’s website.

Red Forest runs at the Young Vic from 12 June – 5 July, click here to book tickets or find out more.

Presented as part of LIFT 2014, a London-wide festival of performance and international theatre taking place 2 – 29 June. Tickets also available through the LIFT Box Office, where a transaction fee applies. 

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