Asian theatre company celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with the first-ever staging of an epic trilogy about immigration. Journey to the West launches a two and a half month tour tonight, 13 March 2002, at Manchester's Contact Theatre before continuing to seven further venues.

Five years in the making, Journey to the West captures the lives and true experiences of Asians who, over the past century, have immigrated from India to East Africa and on to the UK. Written and directed by Tara artistic director Jatinder Verma - who was himself born in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania and came to Britain as a teenager - the trilogy is based on extensive interviews and personal testimonies of real people.

Journey to the West comprises three parts - Dhows, Deserts and Dirty Tricks, set in 1901, when 30,000 indentured labourers are shipped from British India to build a railway in the new colonies of East Africa; Rifts, Refugees and Rivers of Blood which tracks the 1968 journey of 80,000 children of the early pioneers who flee Kenya in a race to get to Britain before the new Immigration Act; and Bhangra, Bollywood and British Bulldogs, taking place in 2001's modern Britain where 1.5 million Indian descendants are helping to shape a new national identity.

The Journey to the West trilogy is designed by Claudia Mayer, with lighting by Jvan Morandi.

Tara Arts was the UK's first dedicated Asian theatre company, founded in 1977 in response to the race riots in Southall following the murder of 17-year-old Gurdip Singh Chaggar. The company has developed its own distinctive 'Binglish' theatre with a characteristically hybrid performance style. Many of the country's leading Asian actors, writers and directors - including Ayub Khan Dhin (East is East), Sanjeev Bhaskar (Goodness Gracious Me) and Naveen Andrews (Buddha of Suburbia) - launched their careers with Tara Arts.

Following Manchester, Journey to the West will visit Leicester, Birmingham, Leeds, Darlington, Cardiff, Westcliff-on-Sea and Reading. The three pieces can be viewed individually or, performed once only in each location, as a single sitting, seven-hour epic with two one-hour intervals.

- by Terri Paddock