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Brief Encounter With ... Rikki Beadle-Blair

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Rikki Beadle-Blair's new play Shalom Baby, set in 1930s Berlin and modern day Brooklyn, runs at Theatre Royal, Stratford East from 25 October (previews from 20 October) to 19 November 2011.

Beadle-Blair's previous credits at Stratford East including 2005's Bashment, and Familyman in 2008. His other plays include FIT, which, along with Bashment, has been turned into a feature film.

What inspired you to write this play?

Ten years ago, almost to the day of this play opening, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. I was moved to tears by the plight of the Jews in Germany - and deeply struck by the lack of public knowledge about the other minorities that were involved in the Holocaust. I've wanted to do this play since that day. But everyone was scared of the subject matter - not Stratford East. They've always supported me taking risky projects and this is the riskiest and most emotionally epic of our collaborations so far - a holocaust romantic comedy.

What was the reaction of people in the US and Germany when you were researching the topic?

Everyone I speak to is curious about this. People seem surprised that black people in the 1930's and 40's lived anywhere in the world but America or Africa.

Why do you think so little is known or addressed publicly about black survivors of the holocaust?

As there were only tens of thousands of them in the first place they constituted a tiny percentage of the survivors and, like the Jews, they were almost entirely decimated. Also the Jewish people have been impressively diligent in making sure this story is told. I found that determination inspiring galvanized.

Do you think more widespread attention should be given to black survivors?

I think more attention should be given to all subjects of the holocaust - the gypsies, Jehovah's witnesses, the disabled, the homosexuals, the communists, the poles; the list goes on and on. It's a list that contains almost all of us. Practically no one is an unimpeachable Aryan. The holocaust isn't a Jewish problem. It's a human problem.

Your piece also addresses sexuality and religion, how do you go about tackling so many issues in one piece?

I believe the way to tell these epic stories and make them accessible to us is to use human stories and show how they affect us as individuals and families. So the levels help give the overall theme. Humour is key, when all is said and done, my job is to entertain; and the play is surprisingly funny.

Can you tell us a bit about how different Shalom Baby is from your previous pieces, I know there are some similarities in the issues addressed and the way you use humour to approach subjects?

Shalom Baby is my biggest challenge to date; to do justice to these stories and still provide entertainment, to shed light on this subject without it being a history lesson and to treat Nazis with an empathy they were unwilling to show others. But that's how I like it. With each project I look for mountains to climb. I live for challenges.

The piece is also billed as a transatlantic story; do you see it having a further life, perhaps in the US?

That would be amazing, but right now it has life right here, in this country in this historic theatre with this amazingly brave and committed cast. To paraphrase a famous movie line; I already have the moon. The stars can come later.


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