Phantasmagoria post-show Q&A at Southwark Playhouse. © Darren Ross

Phantasmagoria post-show Q&A at Southwark Playhouse. © Darren Ross

I started my post-show talk for Kali Theatre’s premiere of Phantasmagoria by asking the audience whether they think politics and society today have become too divided and if social media makes it worse. My final preamble question to the audience: are you feeling largely optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Only a handful of optimists raised their hands.

It’s easy to feel – and find ample evidence to support the feeling – that we are living in increasingly dark times. And Indian-born playwright Deepika Arwind taps into that darkness brilliantly in this psychological thriller, which also marks her UK debut.

In Phantasmagoria, Mehrosh (Hussina Raja), a celebrated student activist, has been invited to an isolated farmhouse in the middle of a forest to take part in a debate with Bina (Tania Rodrigues), deputy leader of the right-wing ruling party. It’s a chance to make her voice heard.

Fearful of the coming conflict, surrounded by eerie shadows and mysterious noises, and increasingly uncertain of what she’s told, Mehrosh starts to feel a growing paranoia that the people around her are not what they seem.

The play explores the dangers of divisive politics and unbridled social media to show how fear can be manufactured and manipulated with chilling consequences.

Ahead of the event, I spoke to Deepika Arwind, currently residing in Germany on a fellowship, who shared a message for UK audiences, and after last Thursday’s performance, I was joined onstage to continue the conversation with (left-right) cast members Tania Rodrigues, Hussina Raja, Ulrika Krishnamurti, Antony Bunsee and director Jo Tyabji.

The event concluded on a note of hope in the power of collective voices and pinpoints of light in the darkness, including the very process of staging this play and others from Kali Theatre, which, for more than 30 years now, has been developing and presenting thought-provoking contemporary theatre by women writers of South Asian descent.

Phantasmagoria continues at Southwark Playhouse Borough on Newington Causeway until 25 November 2023.

Q&A video

Q&A photos

Event photography by Darren Ross.

On Twitter