Esh Alladi. Out West, The Overseas Student rehearsal. Credit Helen Maybanks

From A and E doctor to Gandhi at the Lyric Hammersmith theatre

An A and E doctor turned actor will be one of the three protagonists in a series of original short plays that will reopen the Lyric Hammersmith theatre this month.

Esh Alladi qualified as a doctor at the University of Cambridge before turning to LAMDA for his professional theatre training in pursuit of a career on the stage.

The actor, writer and producer took a step back last year and put on his white coat to serve the people of Manchester during the Covid-19 pandemic, doing what he refers to as “his other job” as an A&E doctor.

Alladi said: “I have been working frontline with some amazing people and I have learned a lot, and seen a lot.

“I think I work with some of the bravest, most generous, most wonderful people in the world.

“The experience has only added to the joy of being able to come back here and do something totally different, but I’m completely changed by it.”

He is now starring in The Overseas Student by Tanika Gupta, one of three short plays that make up the show Out West.

All set in west London, the plays consider the search for identity and place and, as Alladi described, what it is to want to belong.

In The Overseas Student Alladi steps into the feet of 18-year-old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, already married and father to a son, who has arrived in London to study law and become a barrister.

Alladi said: “He is searching for his identity and experiencing what is to be an immigrant.

“Everything that Gandhi encounters, from the people to the politics or different forms of racism, but also basic things, such as being a vegetarian – he struggles with all of that.

“But – and this is the universality of it all – it’s a story of a young guy going to university, essentially, and trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs in the world.”

DIFFERENT CULTURES: Alladi described Gandhi’s struggles maintaining his vegetarian diet: “He’s just looking for a good meal!” Credit: Helen Maybanks

To prepare for the role the actor, who won the UK Theatre Award for Best Supporting Performance in 2019, read extensively about Gandhi’s biography, but gaps remained on his years in London.

He said: “There’s so much people do know about Gandhi but there’s so much we don’t, and what is great about this play is that we know very little about what he was actually like, which makes it really exciting as an actor, because we can decide.”

The other two plays completing the tryptic, Blue Water and Cold and Fresh and Go, Girl, have been written by Simon Stephens and Roy Williams, respectively, and are set in the present day.

THREE WORLDS: Alladi, Mothersdale and Antoine as their respective characters. Credit: Helen Maybanks, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

In Blue Water and Cold and Fresh a man, played by Tom Mothersdale, enters in dialogue with the city under lockdown, in the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests, and confronts his own white privilege.

Go, Girl, starring Ayesha Antoine, turns to a woman, the failed promise of her generation, and where that leaves her and her child.

Out West is co-directed by Rachel O’Riordan, artistic director of the Lyric, and Diane Page, who had previously written and directed In Love and Loyalty at the theatre.

Page said: “All of the plays explore race, identity, place, purpose, and what it means to belong.

“It feels very clear to Rachel and I that all of them are set in a sort of shifting world, where conversations are happening that maybe hadn’t previously been happening.”

BACK AGAIN: Co-director Diane Page, in action. Page and O’Riordan rehearse separately, to maximise their time. Credit: Helen Maybanks

This year has been particularly difficult for the theatre industry, with a recent survey stating that 95% of the theatre organisations that responded across the UK were worst off because of Covid.

Page said it was amazing to be back in rehearsal, although she described a moment of shock when she realised they were back after more than a year.

“We have to think things differently, and it’s not just the obvious Covid rules, but it’s thinking about what is happening in the world now and how that affects the work we are creating,” she noted.

As for the plays, the co-directors highlighted the creative value of working across three separate worlds which thematically speak to one another.

“I hope the pieces start some conversations, that we can look at our past and see how it is speaking to this moment,” Page concluded.

Out West is at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre live from 18 June to 24 July. An online streaming will be available from 12-17 July. 

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