A play exploring how Covid-19 impacts an intergenerational South Asian household is being performed this week as part of a Birmingham arts festival highlighting stories around mental health and wellbeing.

Produced by Sampad and written by Farrah Chaudhry, The Walls Between Us brings to the stage researched, personal experiences of Covid-19, looking at issues of grief, mental health and how different generations find ways to connect during the ongoing pandemic.

(L-R): Promila Bittu-Safaya, Vimal Korpal and Ravneet Sehra star in 'The Walls Between Us' from Sampad Sampad
(L-R): Ravneet Sehra, Promila Bittu-Safaya and Vimal Korpal star in ‘The Walls Between Us’ from Sampad

When the pandemic hits, the Jamils are all affected in their own way. Rahil, a key worker, decides to self-isolate in his room to protect his elderly mother, Fazeela.

Fazeela is struggling with the speed at which lockdown has been enforced and being cut off from her family and friends. Rahil’s daughter, Malaika, is stuck at home, unable to go back to university.

Will the Jamils pull together to help each other out through these difficult times? Or will they allow for the pandemic to push them apart? These are the struggles that play out in the theatrical production, which has already been touring preview shows in Birmingham neighbourhoods with high South Asian populations.

Promila Bittu-Safaya performing at Saathi House in Aston in 'The Walls Between Us' Adam Yosef
Promila Bittu-Safaya performing at Saathi House in Aston in ‘The Walls Between Us’

Starring Promila Bittu-Safaya, Vimal Korpal and Ravneet Sehra; the talented cast have already shared the The Walls Between Us with local residents at Saathi House in Aston and Norton Hall in Saltley, with performances also planned for community venues including Ward End Library and at the Birmingham REP theatre tonight and tomorrow.

Directed by Suzanne Gorman, themes explored in the play include the uncertainties of employment, the strains of a family living under the same room with limited movement, and the vulnerability of elderly relatives during a global pandemic.

Composed by Archita Kumar with a set design crafted by Charlotte Gregory, the Sampad production aims to connect people with South Asian and British Asian heritage, using the power of arts to bring people together from all walks of life.

'The Walls Between Us' explores the impact of COVID-19 on an intergenerational South Asian family Adam Yosef
‘The Walls Between Us’ explores the impact of COVID-19 on an intergenerational South Asian family

The Walls Between Us has been commissioned by BEDLAM Arts & Mental Health Festival 2021, showcasing a diverse ​programme of world premieres, visual art and film as well as powerful live performance through theatre, spoken word, dance and music – at venues across the city.

According to event organisers, the festival – now in its fifth year – hopes to address the stigma around mental health by using visual art to tell important stories of struggles affecting people of all backgrounds and ages.

“1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people experience a common mental health problem (such as anxiety or depression) each week.

“So whether you’ve experienced this, or know someone who has, you’re not alone. It’s vital to share your stories – and taking part in the arts is a natural way to do so.”

The BEDLAM Arts and Mental Health Festival 2021 is on between 12 - 21 November BEDLAM
The BEDLAM Arts and Mental Health Festival 2021 is on between 12 – 21 November

Engaging work being staged during the 10-day festival includes ‘StereoHype’ from TV presenter Sue Brown and Vocal Performer Dr Judith Bruce-Golding, ‘Buttercup’ written and directed by Patricia Downey, ‘Vixen’, an original story by Matt Grinter of a young girl who is turning into a fox; and performances from Matt McGuinness and the MLC.

‘Looking Back, Moving Forwards’ from Hannah Graham is an entertaining collection of monologues being performed at The Loft reflecting the experiences of older LGBT+ people from Birmingham, while ‘Forgotten Key Workers’ at The REP is directed by Mathias André and edited by CJ Lloyd Webley. A lived experience workshop led by Artist Wellbeing founder Lou Platt is also being held at the MAC.

The festival is co-organised by Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, together with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre, Sampad South Asian Arts and guest partner Red Earth Collective.

“We hope that BEDLAM continues to reduce stigma, and encourages honest discussions around mental health – all with some fantastic performances. Whatever your age or background, there’s something for everyone.”

Partnering with Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Sampad, this year’s events are also taking place in The Irish Centre, Centrala, The Loft, Cherry Reds and Holy Trinity Church.

To find out more about The Walls Between Us, click here. For more on this year’s BEDLAM Festival programme, click here.

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