Doctor and Writer Shaan Sahota talks about her 360-Binaural Sound Experience ‘Under the Mask’

With a greater focus placed on the contributions made by those within the NHS during the pandemic, it became apparent just how selfless and resilient these everyday heroes are. Amongst these medics, newly qualified trainees would have experienced their initial year on the frontlines in what has now become a very significant period within our history. Inspired by her own experiences of working on the frontline, doctor and playwright Shaan Sahota presents ‘Under the Mask’, a 360 degree binaural experience capturing the sounds of the Covid wards. Ahead of the show, Shaan tells us more about what to expect.

Hi Shaan, your show Under the Mask, will show at Theatre Peckham in mid June before going on tour. How are you feeling ahead of the show?

I’m really excited to finally be able to share this story. We talk so much about this pandemic but it’s often on a really large scale: R numbers and exponential spread. I think this offers something new as a small story, on the ground, unfolding one person at a time.

Under the Mask is inspired by your own experiences of being a frontline doctor, the story following a newly qualified doctor’s first day of work. How have you found exploring your own experiences and the themes within the show?

It’s given me the chance to perceive my own experience, that I lived, through the eyes of a third-party observer. This distance means that I now have a lot more sympathy and understanding for myself and the people around me than I did at the time. Writing about my experience felt like a meditative and very reflective exercise – I had to try to deconstruct feelings of chaos and fear, so that I could re-construct and re-create them for an audience.

The show features 360-degree binaural sound recorded on location in Covid wards, the audience experiencing the show’s audio element via headphones. How have you found using technology to explore the show further?

I think the technology has allowed other artists to bring in their own enormous talent and when the piece was finished, I was astounded by what came back to me. Binaural sound is not a technology that I am accustomed to, so the end product really caught me off guard – I think the technology itself is really impactful and surprising and immersive.

The piece has been co-produced by Tamasha and Oxford Playhouse. What has been the process in terms of the play’s development?

It’s been such a positive and encouraging environment, and I’ve felt very nurtured. The idea for the play was Fin Kennedy’s (Tamasha), and he dramaturged the drafts of the play with me. Then the dialogue was recorded with actors, and I recorded the soundscape in hospital. And then there was a lot of ‘jamming’ and creativity from Farokh, the sound designer, who transformed it again.

What have you learned/taken away from this historical time?

I’d say what I’ve learned is somewhat encapsulated in the whole arc of Under the Mask, but if I had to reduce it to its essence I’d say: sickness and death are an inevitable part of life, and I don’t aspire to a life where I look away from them. 

What can audiences expect from the show?

The show is really immersive and will allow the audience to share the heartbreak and wonder of a junior doctor, thrust into a global pandemic.

What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?

I hope the audience will be entertained, first and foremost, and enjoy this really novel way of sharing a story. At best, I’d hope they suspend their disbelief for some minutes and experience reality from a perspective that’s not their own.

Maybe they’ll have new thoughts and shift their perspective on what we’ve all lived through in the last year. Maybe they’ll discuss it with pals over dinner? What else could I hope for!

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Under the Mask will show from Sunday 13th to to Friday 18th June 2021 at Theatre Peckham, for more information, visit here…

Before embarking on a tour to Theatr Clwyd from Wednesday 30th June to Saturday 3rd July 2021, Liverpool Playhouse from Thursday 8th to Saturday 10th July 2021 before concluding at  Oxford Playhouse from Monday 12th to Thursday 15th July 2021.

Written by Theatrefullstop