New show highlights a way of life under threat
06 July 2022
A new production - created to raise awareness of the persecution of the Roma community in response to the latest attack on their way of life - is to premiere at Old Town Hall Stratford next week.
The Stopping Place takes its name from a Romani term "atchin tans" [stopping places] which are the traditional sites that Romani communities visit during the year. The production explores the persecution of the Roma community in the Second World War and shines a spotlight on what is happening to the community in contemporary Britain.
In April, Home Secretary Priti Patel's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act 2022 was passed. The Act makes trespassing a criminal offence - a law that many believe directly attacks the nomadic lifestyle and cultural practices of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities across the UK.
The work has been written and produced by University of East London academic Professor Dominic Hingorani with his company Brolly Productions, and co-artistic director Rachana Jadhav, in partnership with Newham Music and east London schools. It is supported by Arts Council England.
Dr Hingorani, interim head of music, writing and performance at UEL's School of Arts and Creative Industries, said, "Our work always places untold stories centre stage, and we feel that one of the most marginalised groups in the country is the Roma community.
"The PCSC Act particularly targets the Roma way of life, so we wanted to make a piece of work that told not only the story of the contemporary Roma situation but to also link it back to the Roma holocaust. We wanted to highlight the connection with what is happening now - the legislative persecution - to the terrible persecution that was carried out on this community during the Second World War."
Drawing on the music of the Romani tradition, The Stopping Place is an all-female musical theatre production that features Roma singers Sindy Czureja and Niamh Bennett as sisters Pusomori and Kaven, and is supported by a chorus drawn from secondary schools in Newham, working with a score by composer Tate and Dr Hingorani and the Roma Bridging Sounds Orchestra.
Pusomori and Kaven are sisters born into the Romani community but who now live in two very different worlds. Separated as teenagers Pusomori continued her travelling life while Kaven, who is "poshrat" [a mixed blood Romani] has settled.
The "Big Halt" has been called and gypsies are no longer permitted to travel but Pusomori refuses to settle. When the sisters meet, Kaven asks Pusomori to go along with her and they must decide what price they are prepared to pay to visit the "atchin tans" of their mother.
To research the piece, Dr Hingorani worked with The Wiener Holocaust Library in Russell Square, London, and also the London Roma and Gypsy Organisation and Roma Support Group Newham.
He explained, "We worked with The Wiener Holocaust Library which not only holds the archive on the Jewish experience but also the Roma experience. Not many people are aware that the fate of Roma in many ways paralleled that of the Jews.
"Under the Nazi regime, German authorities subjected Roma to arbitrary internment, forced labour and mass murder. It's estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 European Roma were killed during the Second World War. This part of the history of the holocaust is hidden - so we wanted this story to be told."
The Roma community has a rich tradition of music. The nomadic lifestyle of its people drawing on a rich and diverse pool of influences. It was important to Dr Hingorani to capture this authentic sound in The Stopping Place.
He said, "Even though I created the story, I'm not from a Roma background so it was crucial to the project the main performers were from the cultural space of the characters. The two central performers are of Roma heritage, and we have worked with the Roma Bridging Sounds Orchestra. They have a particular music vocabulary. We have used their knowledge and their experiences to feed into the artistic process and project.
"What's interesting is that the process is very different from classical western music; everything is done by ear. This makes a particular way of rehearsing. The motives, scales, and arrangements would be recognised as Roma music but, as you can appreciate, Roma music is incredibly diverse because people by their nature are constantly travelling and drawing into their own music other musical and cultural references.
"We wanted the story and the sound to capture this. We wanted to create a hybrid fluid space so that the audience would think about what it is to be a community. We are not one thing but a mix of things. We need to celebrate this. The Roma music really brings that whether that be flamenco influences or south Asian influences or eastern European influences, British influences … it's all there, bringing us together."
He added, "It's a great honour to work with such talented artists from the Roma community. We believe this is an important piece of work with a message that celebrates diversity and encourages inclusivity and acceptance."
The Stopping Place is being staged at Old Town Hall, Stratford, 29 The Broadway E15 4BQ on:
- 14 July from 6.30-8pm, with a special panel discussion from The Wiener Holocaust Library
- 15 July from 6.30-7.30pm
Tickets are FREE but must be booked in advance via Eventbrite.
- Top image: Students from schools in Newham rehearsing for their role in the chorus
- Centre image: Roma singer Sindy Czureja takes on the role of Pusomori in Brolly Production's The Stopping Place
For more information about the project, visit Brolly Productions.
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