Jaimini Jethwa born in Africa grew up in Scotland, Dundee. Writer, Yoga Instructor, Live music producer, Video Producer, Abertay University, filmmaker, short films screened at Edinburgh fringe festival and playwright with upcoming production Last Queen Of Scotland produced by Stellar Quines and in association with Dundee Rep and National Theatre Scotland. Jaimini talks to Creative Dundee about her experiences.
JAIMINI Jethwa was one year old when she and her parents were forced to leave Uganda and move to Dundee. That was in August 1972, when Uganda’s larger than life president Idi Amin had ordered the expulsion of all 80,000 Asian Ugandans from the country within a ninety-day period or else face the consequences. Before they left, Jethwa’s father had his own business, but Amin took that and everything else. When Jethwa’s family arrived in Dundee, her father had £7 in his pocket, and they were housed on a council estate in Fintry.
With little memory of the country where she was born, Jethwa and her family were the only family of colour on the estate. Any discussion within the family of who they were and how they ended up there was taboo. Jethwa became a film-maker, has worked on short films for the BBC, and developed specialist skills working with vulnerable young people and adults. Even though she was now based at Abertay University, she still had questions she wanted to ask about where she was from, and why as a child she’d been scared to go outside for reasons she couldn’t understand.
Jethwa was coming up to her fortieth birthday, and was in Spain. Conscious of how her own anniversary tallied with the fortieth anniversary of the expulsion, she found herself writing a poem. It wasn’t a documentary poem like the films she worked on, but was something both more personal and dramatic. Jethwa wanted to expand on this, and, through Creative Scotland’s International fund, visited Uganda. Once here, she talked to people who knew Amin and others who had lived through his terrors.
The result of this is The Last Queen of Scotland, Jethwa’s new dramatisation of the Asian Ugandan experience in response to being forced into exile by Amin’s brutal regime. Produced by Stellar Quines Theatre Company with support from the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep, the play, like her prodigal’s return, has seen Jethwa to face up to some of her personal demons.
“In a way it was me trying to find Idi Amin,” she says, mid-way through talking about a journey to writing The Last Queen of Scotland that was as much a mental and emotional one as it was physical. “I was reading books and watching films, and just became immersed in everything about him. It was like I was with Idi Amin all the time. He saturated my brain, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. To exorcise the trauma I had to get close to him, so close that it made me sick, because I was frightened.
“It was the same as when I was a toddler, and I was scared to go out because I was frightened of seeing soldiers on the street. I didn’t know where that came from, because, culturally, Indian people don’t like to talk about what happened at all. Indian people are very good at moving forward. It was just something that happened, and then you moved on. I began to become aware of it all when I was about sixteen, and I started to make correlations in my mind. I decided that I had to face up to my fears, and the only way of doing that was by going back to Uganda.”
By this time, Jethwa had met Giles Foden at a symposium in London. Foden’s novel, The Last King of Scotland, was a fictional account of Amin’s regime which went on to be adapted for a film directed by Kevin Macdonald and starring Forest Whittaker and James McAvoy. After Jethwa explained to Foden the story she wanted to tell, Foden gave his blessing to the as-yet-unwritten play and its title.
“A lot of people who came from Uganda were sent to Leicester,” says Jethwa, “but we ended up in Dundee. When I started researching Idi Amin and learnt about his obsession with Scotland, it made me think, because he took Uganda off me, and we came here, and then he wanted to take Scotland off me, and I thought, nah, you’re not having that.”
Rather than tell her own story, Jethwa has fleshed out her play with her own fiction of a young woman older than her, and who remains more aware of what was going on when she left Uganda.
“I decided I wanted to do something that was visceral,” says Jethwa, “and which was something that could touch people. This is my love letter to Dundee for giving me a life. It’s a local story in that way, a community story. Dundee was quite a tough city when I first came here, and the play looks at trying to fit in. The character in the play gets into some very dangerous situations, and I think what I want the play to shed a light on is how she comes through that. One of the reasons I wanted to get this story out there is for people who are going through something similar now, and who might be confused about it. It’s also about owning your own history, and to not be ashamed of it.”
As directed by Stellar Quines artistic director and former head of Dundee Rep, Jemima Levick, and performed by Rehanna MacDonald, The Last Queen of Scotland previews in Dundee before forming part of this year’s Made in Scotland showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
“We’re living in a different cultural climate,” says Jethwa. “Dundee is a multi-cultural city now, but if you go to the outskirts, like any place there’s still some old school ideas around. Other than that, Dundee has been transformed.”
Jethwa illustrates this with a story that took place just before she visited Uganda. “I was really nervous about going, and I went to the pub and bumped into these black Ugandan people. I was just staring at them, and eventually went and talked to them. It turned out they were at the University and were staying in Dundee. Part of me thought that me going to Uganda was going to be the end of my life, but these people put me in touch with their pals over there, and were really helpful.”
As a film-maker, Jethwa is conscious about wanting her story to reach as wide an audience as possible. If her play was to be filmed, there is so much she could expand on, she says. As a play too, Jethwa wants The Last Queen of Scotland to leave its mark.
“I want to try and open up theatre in a new style,” she says. “So many stories about refugees are restricted to black and Asian theatre, and one of my challenges is to get this to a mass audience. I would like to see it put on in Uganda, as well as other places where there is a big issue of segregation. That story is relevant anywhere. It’s not just about refugees, but obviously where we are politically just now makes that really important as well. There were people coming over here from Uganda who didn’t have a choice where they lived, and who came here with nothing. But it’s not just about the expulsion of Asians from Uganda. It has to have a resonance about human beings anywhere.”
The Last Queen of Scotland previews at Dundee Rep, July 21-22 then plays at Underbelly in Edinburgh, August 3-26, 6.50pm
Neil Cooper – The Herald
Tell us a bit about The Last Queen of Scotland.
The Last Queen of Scotland is inspired by writer Jaimini’s experience of the Ugandan Asian expulsion, and her move to Dundee as an immigrant in the early 70’s. It is about how she chose to explore her past in order to be in control of her future – a story of where she came from and where she now belongs. To quote Jaimini it is a ‘love letter to the D… you know, fir giving me a hame.’
This is Jaimini’s first play. Her background is in film making but not in theatre and the play has not been a traditional commission. Jaimini had an idea about what she wanted to write and Jemima Levick (Stellar Quines’ Artistic Director) alongside George Aza-Selinger (former Literary Manager at the National Theatre of Scotland), have spent about four years working with Jaimini, to get to the point of a joint co-commission by Dundee Rep and the NTS, and the play being produced by Stellar Quines.
Having been on this journey with Jaimini we’re all excited to be at a point where we can share this story with audiences.
Why is it important for people to see it?
It’s an untold Scottish story and an important part of Scottish social history. It’s also a story of forced migration and the very human impact that had. Given what we’re living through at the moment this feels particularly pertinent.
At Stellar Quines we want to make work that inspires women and girls, and the play does that. It’s about knowing who you are, and belonging and defeating the powers that be from controlling you.
Who would you recommend comes to see The Last Queen of Scotland?
The play is an exciting new voice, in it’s in Dundonian dialect and it’s a little know story. Patricia Panther who recently provided lead vocals for Basement Jaxx’s latest album, Junto, will also be composing and performing the music.
So I would recommend it to people who are seeking an engaging theatrical experience that will not only entertain but provoke new thinking and hopefully good conversation afterwards. Those who are interested in hearing a new voice from Scotland and finding out about more about this period in history. Anyone who has felt conflicted about who they are and where they belong who will share in someone’s journey to solve that.
What’s next for you after the Fringe?
We’re thrilled to be working on a co-production with The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh and Scottish Dance Theatre of a new stage adaptation of Marguerite Duras‘ The Lover which is an exotic tale of remembered passion fusing spoken word, music and evocative dance.https://www.stellarquines.com/productions/the-lover/ The play will be presented at The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh 20 Jan 2018 – 3 February and tickets are on sale now.
Are there any other shows you’re hoping to catch at the festival?
There are so many! We’re part of the Made in Scotland showcase http://www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com/ this year and we’re certainly going to attempt to see as much as we can from our fellow showcase members.
Timings and ticket information for The Last Queen of Scotland are available on the edfringe website
We are excited to announce that Stellar Quines will be working with National Theatre of Scotland on two World Premiere productions in their 2017 Season. Jemima Levick will direct both The 306: Day by Oliver Emanuel and Gareth Williams and The Last Queen of Scotland by Jaimini Jethwa.
National Theatre of Scotland and Horsecross Arts and Stellar Quines present
The 306: Day
Written by Oliver Emanuel, composed by Gareth Williams, directed by Jemima Levick
Touring Scotland from 4 to 27 May 2017
The 306: Day is the second part of Oliver Emanuel and Gareth William’s powerful new First World War trilogy, charting the heart-breaking journey of the 306 men executed for cowardice and desertion during the conflict and the devastating consequences for those they left behind. This second part in the trilogy theatrically explores how the war affected women, families, and communities on the home front.
The first part of the trilogy, The 306: Dawn, premiered in the summer of 2016 and was set around the events of the Battle of the Somme, marking the centenary of the Somme Offensive. Audaciously staged within a transformed barn in the Perthshire countryside, and co-produced with Horsecross Arts and 14-18 NOW, the play charted the real-life stories of three soldiers fighting on the front line who were to be executed for their actions.
Inspired by real events and first-hand accounts, The 306: Day follows the lives of three ordinary women fighting to be heard above the clamour of World War 1. The date is 1917, and the war across the channel rages on. In Russia, a revolution is turning the social order on its head while at home in Britain, there are women fighting their own battles. Rents are rising. Food is scarce. And war work can be deadly.
Nellie Murray works at a Glasgow munitions factory but is also a member of the Women’s Peace Crusade.
Struggling to cope after the execution of her husband for cowardice, Gertrude Farr has a young daughter and doesn’t know where to turn.
Mrs Byers waits for news of her son. He ran off to join the army at the beginning of the war and she prays for word of his safe return.
The 306: Day is a new piece of music theatre about staying silent and speaking out, fighting for peace and giving into violence. It tells the forgotten story of three women in wartime and their struggle to survive in a world that won’t listen.
The National Theatre of Scotland reunites with Horsecross Arts and collaborates with Stellar Quines for the first time, under the new Artistic Directorship of Jemima Levick. The National Theatre of Scotland is also delighted to partner with Glasgow Women’s Library for the first time on an accompanying project researching the role of women on the home front during the First World War.
“(The) most brilliantly moving of elegies”- ***** The Herald on The 306: Dawn
“An indelibly powerful work of music theatre that will have an impact for many years to come”- **** The Scotsman on The 306: Dawn
The 306: Day continues the collaboration between playwright Oliver Emanuel and composer Gareth Williams and their interest in combining theatrical and operatic disciplines. This new show will be directed by Stellar Quines’ Artistic Director Jemima Levick and will be performed in civic halls and centres around Scotland.
Oliver Emanuel’s work for the National Theatre of Scotland includes Dragon (winner, Best Production for Families, UK Theatre Awards 2014) and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, based on Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name. Gareth Williams’ compositions have featured in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, St. Magnus Festival, Sound Festival, 5:15, Tête à Tête Opera Festival, Sonorities, Opera to Go, and the York Late Music Festival.
Touring across Scotland from 16 to 27 May 2017, with opening performances in Perth.
Join the conversation: #The306
Full tour details and casting to be announced.
A Stellar Quines production, commissioned and supported by the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep.
The Last Queen of Scotland
By Jaimini Jethwa, directed by Jemima Levick
Touring to Dundee Rep Theatre (preview) and Edinburgh Festival Fringe in summer 2017
‘My Mum and Dad had £7 when they got here. They got 90 days to leave and seven shitty pounds. 90 days, two pints, one pack of fags, gone.’
August 1972 – Idi Amin had a dream and ordered the expulsion of all Asians from Uganda under a 90-day deadline. From Uganda to Dundee, Jaimini Jethwa grew up in Scotland knowing nothing about her homeland until she found herself being haunted by Idi Amin. She started to run but he was everywhere.
Fae Uganda to Dundee and all the way back again – how do you confront Idi Amin when he still messes with your head?
The Last Queen of Scotland sheds light on a unique period in Scotland’s social history and the particular story of a community in exile that has rarely been told. Just as Idi Amin coined the phrase ‘The Last King of Scotland’ Jaimini Jethwa has decided to reclaim her heritage. Performed by one woman to a live urban soundtrack, through the street sounds of Dundonian dialect, The Last Queen of Scotland is Jaimini Jethwa’s homage to her city – her ‘love letter to the D”.
Jaimini is a playwright and independent film-maker. In March 2014 Jaimini travelled to Uganda to explore presenting The Last Queen of Scotland at National Theatre Kampala as part of ‘Banta in Uganda’ – in a research and development project supported through Creative Scotland’s International fund.
Leading Scottish director, and new Artistic Director of Stellar Quines, Jemima Levick directs. Jemima is also directing The 306: Day for the National Theatre of Scotland in 2017.
Touring to Dundee Rep and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Summer 2017
Join the conversation: #LastQueenOfScotland
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