My first interactions with the British Council were as a child actually. The library, my mother redesigning the library, and most formatively, coming to see interesting, fringe theatre in the little blue hall. As an adult and practitioner, when I moved back in 2013, the British Council gave funding towards my first play Paraya and I worked with my former company, Mind Adventures, as the inaugural Artists in Residence creating and performing work in the new library space for over a year. It really was one of the first spaces where I confronted theatre that asked questions and provoked its audiences, making an indelible impression on how I saw the medium, how I understood about what it could achieve.
I’ve had a great working relationship with the British Council over the years. As Artist in Residence, creating work for the Colomboscope Festival, doing workshops and now, as the winner of the Gratiaen Prize. It has always been fruitful, interesting and allowed me to create work I found engaging and also be able to be a working artist. That is key to my relationship, without the British Council, I wouldn’t have been able to put myself in a position of being paid for my work, of supporting myself and the artists I work with.
A memory that sticks out the most has to be my 2015 production Only Soldiers. The play was first commissioned by the British Council for a private function for the heads from the region and then had a successful run for the public later that year. It was a dream to work on. Based on Michael Tomlinson’s The Most Dangerous Moment, an account of the Japanese attacks on Sri Lanka during World War II, the play was a study in masculinity and male friendships. Writing, directing and performing in that library space, transforming the space into army barracks and fighter planes up in the sky was a wonderful creative challenge. Straddling the moving shelves while other performers moved us around the room to create the shadows of planes up on the low ceiling is something I won’t soon forget.
That is key to my relationship, without the British Council, I wouldn’t have been able to put myself in a position of being paid for my work, of supporting myself and the artists I work with.
It has always been refreshing to work with an organisation that is committed to the arts, to creating a robust art scene in the country. I’d love to work more on exchanges of work, which we did once with the British Council Northern Ireland, where myself and Northern Irish theatremaker, Alice Malseed, collaborated on a project. It’d be great to do more work like that in the future, and really begin to have conversations on the fallout from colonialism and what it means for the world today.