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Playwright Deepika Arwind on 'Phantasmagoria' at Southwark Playhouse

In anticipation of the psychological horror Phantasmagoria’s opening on November 1st, I interviewed the playwright herself: theatre-maker, writer and performer, Deepika Arwind. Arwind offered some insight into her upcoming play and how she constructs meaning in her artistic work.

When asked about her chosen genre of writing, Arwind explained that she didn’t initially intend to write a psychological horror but that her narrative dictated so. Arwind referred to a certain ambiguity depicted in Phantasmagoria in which characters aren’t who they appear to be.

Phantasmagoria, as Arwind understands it, is typically synonymous with the creation of a dream-like atmosphere, particularly through means of light and shadow. When horror-theatre emerged, technology access was more scarce, so the reliance was upon objects like lanterns to create this air of mystery. This technique is replicated in Arwind’s modern-day work to create an eerie sense of unknowing throughout her play. The contained space also felt relevant and appropriate to Arwind when casting light upon the dangers of divisive politics, a motif characterising the play at large.

When pressed to elaborate on what divisive politics means to her, Arwind explained that she refers to the discrepancy between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ where the effect of ‘othering’ is a sense of feeling less deserving or entitled than another individual. Arwind finds resonance with these issues, and her artistic work serves as a platform for her voice to be heard. Arwind expressed her conviction that artistic work – theatre specifically – provides ample opportunity to amplify the good voices.

Arwind isn’t merely concerned with political distance, but rather distance on an individual level, fearing a gap that becomes increasingly difficult to bridge in light of our own conflicts of interest. Arwind’s intent is to emphasise the multifaceted nature of the self and the different positions we occupy in our personhood, and urges us to bridge those gaps. This is achieved through exploration of the self in dialogue with others, where discourses are of a confrontational nature. Phantasmagoria seeks to explore the ways in which individuals converse with one another, when pitted against each other. It may be considered an argumentative fictional work, as coined by Arwind herself.

Interestingly, Arwind explained that her characters serve as archetypes of the contemporary moment. Her protagonist Mehrosh, for example, is emblematic of innocence. By extension, the female protagonist embodies Arwind’s conviction that women need greater representation in theatre. She notes that theatre has historically been, and is still in large, defined by strong male leads.

As a woman in theatre herself, Arwind works closely with institutions that foster a safe environment for the development of work by female writers of South Asian descent, namely Kali Theatre. Though, she notes that many of her skills were developed and enhanced in artist residencies – at the time of my writing she was based at the Akademi Schloss Solitude in Germany. Though based out of India, Arwind spends significant time in Europe and the USA, having earned herself international recognition as a playwright.

Phantasmagoria seeks to explore the ways in which one navigates the world at a time that is fraught and precarious, the last two decades having been characterised by polarisation. The play holds particular relevance in light of the emergence of mass media and the consequent misinformation and misguided opinions we are continually subject to. It is her hope that Phantasmagoria serves as a wakeup call. Arwind encourages us to consider the generation to follow and the legacy we wish to leave with them; should this be a reality characterised by heat and terror? Arwind asks why waging war overrides our desire to confront issues like the climate crisis, proposing that we could use our time more productively.

Arwind’s universal message is presented in a unique horror form, and for this reason I anticipate that the production of Phantasmagoria will be a thrilling experience.

To see the ideas I have discussed with Arwind translated onto stage, visit the link below for more information and tickets on Phantasmagoria at the Southwark Playhouse Borough, showing from November 1st- November 23rd, 2023.


Edited by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.


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