Pravesh Kumar, founder and artistic director of Rifco Theatre Company, the UK’s most successful British South Asian touring company, has been recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list and will receive an MBE for his contribution to British theatre.
Pravesh, a writer and director, comes from a working class background and grew up in a large Asian community in Slough. He set up Rifco Theatre Company in 2000 to tell the stories and experiences of British Asians in a way that was both accessible and appealing to the community. Over the past two decades, he has attracted truly diverse audiences in their thousands to theatres in the regions with his hugely popular plays, comedies and musicals, and has helped launch the careers of countless well-known performers and actors.
Britain’s Got Bhangra (2011), a musical that deals with racism and theft of music in the British music industry, remains one of his most successful hits, with both critics and box office, attracting 30,000 people over two tours. The Deranged Marriage (2015), a play about honour, amongst the hilarious mayhem of an Indian wedding, is the most loved by the British South Asian audiences with over 50,000 flocking to theatres to see it. Pravesh directed Indian Icon, Shabana Azmi in the hit production of Happy Birthday Sunita (2014). More recently, he wrote the book for Mushy: Lyrically Speaking (2019), the rap musical based on Musharaf Asgar, who was made famous on Channel 4’s Educating Yorkshire.
Rifco Theatre Company has been leading the way in making theatre productions that use humour and entertainment to open up conversations on social issues, and often taboo subjects affecting the community, including race, honour, sexuality and disability.
It has successfully attracted many first time theatre goers from within the British South Asian community, while also presenting and engaging them in difficult conversations.
Pravesh said: “I grew up looking at Windsor Castle in the distance from bedroom in Slough, this feels like a dream. I am delighted to be recognised for my work and be in such esteemed company on 2022 Honours List. I have been making British Asian focused theatre for 21 years now and I feel blessed to have worked with such amazing creatives and actors.
“Our community rarely wants to talk about the serious issues and I realised that the only way to connect was through making the conversation accessible through entertainment and really open the doors to theatreland for a whole new audience. We’ve come so far as a community in this country and I think it is important to continue hold up a mirror to society and tell those untold stories.
Pravesh hopes that this accolade will send a message to the wider British theatre industry about the importance of British Asian theatre, especially at a time when calls for ‘go back to your country’ are back. He adds:
“We haven’t quite reached anywhere near equality yet. Theatre remains a mostly white and middle class-led industry, where voices like mine are still rare. I am hoping that I have been able to cut down some of the big grass and clear pathways for others artists and leaders to walk on. I’m keen to continue to make ambitious and innovative theatre that will ask some important questions about how we got here and what we have done for our country. At times like these when we could all do with improving our understanding of each other, it is vital that we continue the conversation. I want to make theatre that is to truly representative of working class diverse Britain.”