Sunday, 24 May 2015

Meera Syal at the Royal Festival Hall

Last week I went to hear Meera Syal at the Royal Festival Hall - the event was supposed to be at the Queen Elizabeth Hall but was moved on the day to a space on the sixth floor of the Royal Festival Hall. The talk was to celebrate the publication of Meera's third novel, 'The House of Hidden Mothers' and was part reading, part interview with Maya Jaggi and part Q&A with the audience.

After a rather long introduction from the RFH curator of the Alchemy Festival and then from Maya (an award-winning journalist but, to me, any reown comes from being Madhur Jaffrey's neice), we finally heard from Meera. She read one of the opening pieces from the novel about two friends sitting in a cafe talking about surrogacy in India and how one of the friends is desperate to have a baby. That segment had all the wit, intelligence and naturalism you'd expect from Meera and the book sounds like it's going to be a good read.

After the reading Maya led off with questions about the themes of the book, about ageing, surrogacy in India, friendship, ambition and family. Meera was, as ever, thoughtful and intelligent in her responses, sprinkling in some humour to lighten the mood as she talked about the book and the background to it. There was a really interesting discussion about changes in India, the modernisation on the one hand and the continual poverty on the other, the shocks that some British Indians can face when they go 'home'. At one point Meera was asked whether she felt India or Britian was her 'home' and she chose Britain - she's a Wolverhampton lass after all.

There was the inevitable question about whether it was becoming easier to get non-stereotypical acting roles these days to when she began.  She said she longed for the day when that question was irrelevant and commented that Madhur and Saeed Jaffrey should have played Cleopatra and Lear but they helped pave the way for her generation. Maya mentioned that Meera had played Beatrice in 'Much Ado', a great production that I saw her in in the Olympic summer of 2012.

The new book is published in June but was available to buy after the session and Meera stayed around to sign it. There was a long queue for the signing and a few words but I got my copy signed. I couldn't help but mention that I'd seen her as Beatrice and had seen Zoe Wanamaker in the role a few years earlier but that I thought Meera played the role better (I said so at the time too). Chris asked if she'd ever thought about playing Cleopatra herself but she hadn't - now, I think Meera would be a great Cleopatra! Let's hope someone has the entirely sensible idea of offering her the role one day soon!

I'm looking forward to reading the book and doesn't it have a fab cover! The paperback of 'Ha ha Hee Hee' has been re-printed with a new cover in the same style and I think it would suit 'Anita and Me' as well. Good marketing but also helps create an individual style for Meera. Happy reading!

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