OffWestEnd talks to Mandala Theatre’s Artistic Director Yasmin Sidhwa ahead of touring show MAD(E) arriving at Pleasance, from 14-18 March 2023

Yasmin is founder and Artistic Director of Mandala Theatre Company, an Oxford based, national and international touring and training company, giving a voice to those whose stories are not heard and offering pathways to young artists from Ethnically diverse and White working-class backgrounds into the arts.

Yasmin has toured nationally and internationally with the Royal National Theatre Company, Tara Arts and Aquila Theatre Companies and worked in Repertory Theatre, Television and Radio as a professional actor and director. She was Creative Learning Director at Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, for 17 years, founding MESH – a bi-annual International Youth Arts Festival.

What first attracted you to the theatre?

From a very young age – my parents loved going to the theatre and took us whenever they could afford it and it was a special occasion – we would sing the songs on the way home. I was also given the opportunity to go to a drama camp as a child and loved it. I felt very moved by the stories I watched on stage and the fun and creativity I felt as a participant. I feel it was also a way to connect to worlds that were different to my own. From age 16, I studied theatre at sixth form college and then a BA Hons degree at Bretton Hall College in the beautiful grounds of Yorkshire Sculpture Park and have performed or directed in theatre ever since.

If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on your next project, who/which would it be?

Mojisola Adebayo – writer, dramaturg, performer – her show Family Tree with ATC and Belgrade Theatre will be touring nationally. We have worked together in the past but I would love her to be a dramaturg on the new script I will be writing with poet Jenny Lewis. It focuses on the theme of freedom from ‘Caged Worlds’, with creative workshops with girls and young women in India and Oxford and 5 cities in the UK, about their role as seed guardians in relation to climate change. Mojisola would bring her gifts of honesty, poetry, and support to the writing process.


What is your opinion of Off West End theatre, in general?

I love Off West End Theatre, there are so many gems that are waiting to be discovered. The work is often much more creative because the theatre takes risks and tells stories that are not often seen in mainstream theatres. For me, this is theatre, that often has heart and makes me feel and question myself, creating an energy between audience and actors that is authentic and sometimes transformational.


What was the most inspiring production you have ever seen? Why?

The Brothers Size by Tarel Alvin McCraney. This production was on at the Young Vic in 2018, it was powerful, mythical, full of energy and explored masculinity in a beautiful and emotional way. It was an incredible story, magical, and the actors were incredible, emotional, vulnerable and connected.

This piece really touched my heart. It is interesting as this year Mandala Theatre Company is exploring masculinity in our production of MAD(E) by Sean Burn and it too has a mythical and epic feel to it with movement and dance.

What piece of work are you the most proud of?

I loved the production we did of ‘Collector of Tears’ by Sean Burn in 2017, it is an epic play where the central, immortal character changes gender over the centuries. Tanya collects tears in test tubes – some from historical figures some from lovers encountered across the years. Her journey travels through history, from Joan of Arc to the abolitionist movement in London in 1786, to the Nazis treatment of the Jews in Greece, to the treatment of a transwoman in a mental asylum in post war Manchester. This piece was well ahead of its time and was beautifully presented by a diverse cast of young actors in the UK and France and Germany.

What things in your personal life do you draw upon when you direct?

From very early on in my theatre career I felt that theatre was especially needed to tell stories about the world we live in. To reflect, comment on and challenge society and how people exist together. Growing up in a very white environment as a mixed-race child, my sense of being ‘the outsider’ and needing to find my sense of identity and belonging, has been a key part of what I create and direct and who I work with.

In setting up Mandala Theatre Company I felt that the company needed to focus on Social Justice themes, especially in relation to young people, using the power of moving and exciting stories and theatre to communicate to diverse audiences. It is an intuitive awareness of what theme is most relevant at any one time to research and develop a story about but also based on listening to young people and what is affecting and concerning them.  

Are there any actors/actresses you would like to direct?

I love discovering and working with young actors, they bring an energy and are open to challenging themselves. They bring a vibrancy that I don’t always see in established actors, and I love enabling them to grow and discover their own talent and passion for theatre.


Which director do you respect most on OffWestEnd at the moment?

Euton Daley – who directed SOLD by Amantha Edmead and which won 2 Offies in 2022, for best actor and best supporting actor which powerfully tells the story of the enslaved woman – Mary Prince – and is currently touring and will be on at Arts Depot 22nd April and Greenwich Theatre on 26th April 2023.


Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now/next?
I am currently on tour with MAD(E) written by Sean Burn and directed by me, which is an epic story of life, death, and everything in between. Focused on the tale of three boys existing within hostile environments, carrying their worlds in an urn, a bivvy bag, and soil from the Motherland, it depicts three stories from different cultures, each of the lads living lives dodging a system that engulfs and traumatises them. When they are confronted with Beira – a mythical female shapeshifter, the play delves into the intricacies of their mental trauma and ways of dealing with wounds that make post-trauma growth possible.

The play is funny, it looks at masculinity and the how this manifests in society, so the audience has moments of fun and the space to laugh and recognise these moments. It is fast moving, with a lot of physical and visual theatre, so audiences are kept on their toes, it is alive with action. Finally, the language is very lyrical and rhythmic, which offers a different way into the story of the play where audiences need to listen with a different energy.

From The Pleasance, we go to Theatre Deli, Sheffield 21-25 March and finally to Washington Arts Centre, Sunderland on 30 March 2023. We hope to also be in Edinburgh.

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