Writer and Performer Rinkoo Barpaga talks about his critically acclaimed show ‘Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain’ currently on a national tour

Premiering his show last year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, writer and performer Rinkoo Barpaga would go onto receive critical acclaim, Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain a story inspired by his own intersectional experience of being of South Asian descent, growing up in the UK in the 70s and 80s, and learning to adapt to an external world not really equipped to support his hearing impairment. Currently on tour nationally, the show’s next stops are the Soho Theatre (London) on the 27th to 30th June, Norwich Theatre (Norwich) on 1st October, Brixton House (London) on 4th to 6th October Key Theatre (Peterborough) on 7th October and concludes at the Belgrade Theatre (Coventry) on 9th to 11th October. Ahead of his Soho run, Rinkoo tells us more about what to expect!

Hi Rinkoo, you’re currently touring your hit show Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain nationally. How is it going? What has the feedback been towards the show so far?

The show is going really well. It’s a different experience, taking a show on tour rather than performing in the same venue every day. You arrive at the venue, and there’s a different performance space, a different audience – the air just feels different. It’s like when I played football when I was young – games at home were always fine, I felt confident, but when you go to away games, you’re very aware that you’re stepping onto someone else’s turf. I am continually adapting the show and myself to fit the space I am in.

I have received some tremendous feedback so far. One person said they felt that they were on my journey with me. Another said that the show was completely absorbing. I think the combination of performance methods – physicality, sign language, expression – and my original story is giving the audience the chance to see something completely new. I wonder if audiences will expect other deaf artists to perform in the same style as me, but I consider the style of my show to be my craft and my trademark. Just as Bruce Lee’s masterful Gung Fu martial arts work is iconic, I hope that my style of performance will come to be recognised as my individual craft.

Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain is your journey. Your reaction to the discrimination you have faced and observes the moments where you’ve felt settled, fleeting moments of acceptance and the fear of what may be coming next and the prejudice that is only just around the corner. How have you found exploring your own story further?

To be honest, I never expected my story to be particularly interesting.

I met Daniel Bailey by chance a few times in my hometown of Birmingham, and later we started working together at Birmingham Rep Foundry. Over time we worked together and started having interesting conversations about storytelling. When I started work on the show, I think I expected it to be funny – my background is in comedy – but over time, as I wrote it, it changed to something more theatrical, to eventually feeling like waves of emotions crashing over me, and I wanted to share that raw emotional experience with the audience. I received funding from Deaf Explorer and the Arts Council England to enable me to explore the story further. A key part of creating the story was bringing on the right team. Daniel Bailey was originally working with me as director, but changed role to dramaturg due to other work commitments. Tyrone Huggins started working with me as director, and Mathais Andre as assistant director and voiceover actor, and together we had honest discussions about what to include and what to leave out. In the end, it has turned into a show that I feel very proud of.

Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain made its debut at Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year to critical acclaim. How did you find the whole experience of performing there?

It had been my dream to perform at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but I never thought I’d be able to afford to make it happen. I happened to see an advert from Edinburgh Pleasance Theatre, inviting applications from under-represented communities to perform there. I never thought I would get it, but decided to apply anyway. To my surprise, they contacted me for a Zoom meeting, which went well enough but I still didn’t expect anything to come to it. I was shocked when they contacted me to say they wanted to present my show! I think the intersection of my experiences as a person of colour and as a deaf person may have been appealing.

Arriving in Edinburgh was amazing and overwhelming. The sheer volume of performances and creativity going on in the festival is astonishing. There were posters everywhere, and I felt a lot of pressure as an unknown performer with so much competition – who would come to see my show? As a deaf performer in a hearing environment, it felt a bit like being the only Romanian speaker in a city full of English speakers.

Starting the show was terrific. The show started with smaller audiences, but over time, as I received positive reviews, the audiences grew and grew, and Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain eventually won several awards, which I’m immensely proud of. It was hard work, performing every day in a very physical show, and towards the end of the run I started to feel pain in my shoulder, wrist, left knee and right ankle during the performances – but you can’t stop mid-performance to have a stretch! That was quite challenging.

Performing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival has really taken my experience to the next level, and I’m incredibly grateful to the Pleasance Theatre for giving me this wonderful opportunity to put on my Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain.

Have you made any adaptations to the show since? What did the process involved in terms of creating the show?

Since performing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I have continued to work with director Tyrone Huggins, and we have made small updates to the show. Tyrone had a lot of thoughts on how to improve the fight sequence, which is a metaphor for emotional responses. This was a particularly tough section to choreograph. Tyrone suggested a number of improvements and it’s much better now.

What have you learned/taken away from performing and creating the show?

I started performing 10 years ago – my first performance was in New York City – and I’ve learnt a lot over that time. The most important part of performing, whether it’s in comedy or drama, is making a connection with the audience. Working on Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain has given me lots of opportunities to establish a strong connection with my audience, and I feel I’ve really developed this skill. I have had mixed success over the past 10 years, and cracking this skill of connecting with an audience feels like striking gold – and it will serve me well moving forwards as I develop new shows. Fingers crossed that I will have the opportunity to work on other shows in the future.

What can audiences expect from the show?

I think some people didn’t really know what to expect from my show. I would say to go in with no expectations. I’m telling a story that isn’t shown on mainstream media, film, TV, or theatre anywhere, and people don’t ever get the chance to see what it’s like to be a deaf brown man living in the UK. One of my deaf friends, Lucy, came to watch the show. Afterwards, another audience member saw her signing, tapped her on the shoulder and said “Sorry to interrupt you – is it true that deaf people can smoke weed?” She replied “… of course?!” Many people don’t know what it’s like to be deaf in this country, but I obviously don’t blame them – we’ve just had limited opportunities to tell our stories.

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

I would say it’s not a matter of what I want them to take away from the show per se. I just want audiences to enjoy the show and maybe learn too. Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain gives audiences an opportunity to have an inside perspective on what it’s like to be a deaf Asian man living in Birmingham, and I just hope that audiences find this compelling.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

For our review of Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain, visit here…

Made in I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶ Britain will show at Soho Theatre (London) on the 27th to 30th June, Norwich Theatre (Norwich) on 1st October, Brixton House (London) on 4th to 6th October Key Theatre (Peterborough) on 7th October and concludes at the Belgrade Theatre (Coventry) on 9th to 11th October. 

Written by Theatrefullstop