Set to unfold within two of the UK’s last remaining traditional sari shops, Rasa Theatre and Contact present Handlooms, written by Rani Moorthy and directed by Alan Lane.
Exploring the sari from a rarely-taken male perspective, this immersive performance will be performed inside working businesses Alankar House of Sarees in the heart of Manchester’s Curry Mile and Anokhi House of Sarees in Leicester to give audiences a close encounter with a world that is slowly dying out.
The play is the story of inter-generational conflict between a mother and son who are both seeking opposing solutions to a crisis in their sari business.
Experienced as a mixture of live performance and audio storytelling through headphones, the play gives a fascinating insight into the rich traditions of the sari – from the male-dominated world of bartering, buying, designing and draping the everyday garment onto south Asian women, to the contemporary fashion demands and changes through the generations that are seeing these rich traditions slowly disappearing.
Rani Moorthy explains, “I was very aware growing up that men sold the sari, dictated what we wore, designed the saris. I was also conscious of the language used when encountering female clients; sensuous, intimate, about the women’s body, the drape – the gestures – so contrary to the strict social rules we had between genders in the south Asian community. It took me a long time to understand this was something so unique – and that it was dying out.
When on the Curry Mile or at Diwali celebrations in Leicester I would see women wearing everyday saris, worn to go shopping or to do chores or go to the post office. But this was slowly eroding; the sari was going back into the closet. The sari shops were slowly becoming something else; shisha bars or Westernised new boutique-style salons, not the traditional style shops I knew when I was growing up.
I wanted to write a play about saris from the male perspective, and Handlooms happens in a real sari shop to give the audience a very close encounter; to recreate my childhood memories of these extraordinary men whose love of saris took them to a very theatrical way of presenting themselves.”
Alankar House of Sarees and Anokhi House of Sarees are owned by the same family of second and third generational migrants. Coming to the UK from Tanzania in the late 1960s, Anokhi House of Sarees was initially established in Leicester and then Alankar House of Sarees; becoming the first sari shop on the Curry Mile when it opened 40 years ago.
From its origins as a business run by men trading everyday custom-made weaves sourced from the handlooms to today’s contemporary demands for ready-stitched fashion and boutique wedding saris, they are experiencing vast changes to the business of who buys and sells the sari, offering fascinating insight into a changing migrant experience.
Real life and drama co-exist in the authentic theatrical setting of these traditional shops, as Handlooms takes a rare male-perspective on the sari to explore- and explode – assumptions about this traditional garment.
It is the second show in Rasa’s sari trilogy, and the Manchester performances form part of In the City, a year-long programme of site-specific performance as Contact undergoes a major building transformation.
Tickets are on sale now for Handlooms at Alankar House of Sarees priced £15/£12 concessions from Contact box office by phone on 0161 274 0600 or securely online at contactmcr.com.