Blog: Natasha Marshall

The writer and star of a one-woman show about otherness on exposing herself in her work

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Half Breed is a show about otherness. It started with a short spoken word piece originally developed during my time at Soho Theatre’s Writers’ Lab programme and was first presented as part of the Talawa Firsts Festival. I liked how empowered I felt when performing it; I liked the way people listened to the message and respected its perspective. I wanted to see if I could encapsulate that within a one-woman play so it just grew from there. I was tired of only seeing the same kinds of people on stage while only being cast for stereotypical roles. I wanted to see a mixed-race story on stage that I could relate to and perform that would show my versatility. I didn’t have an agent at the time, so I thought I gotta do what I gotta do to get what I need to get!

The show is basically half me and half my sister’s story. As it’s my first play I felt comfortable basing the character on myself, because I know myself more than anything else I know. I thought that was a good place to start – a solid foundation and all that. The reason I loosely based it on me was just because – let’s be real – I didn’t wanna expose myself too much. Also, just naturally when writing the show, I felt inspired by my sister’s similar experiences, so the play is about us and for both of us.

I soon realised whilst touring India that hope and family and dreams and speaking up are all our universal topics

I wrote this play for everyone I love back home but mainly for my sister and my Grandma. If I’m honest I did it for myself initially, to kinda save myself. But as time went on I realised this is bigger than me and I want to save everyone I love, bring them with me.

After Edinburgh 2007, I went on a five-week tour of India and I felt that audiences really related to the story there. I’m aware Half Breed is so specific to my village that it might not translate well in a different country. However, I soon realised whilst touring India that hope and family and dreams and speaking up are all our universal topics that everyone can relate to. Generally, audiences reacted more or less the same from UK to India. In India we did a Q&A after some of the shows and it was amazing to hear people speak about their personal experiences – it was a really moving experience for me.

Taking Half Breed back to the West Country felt vital to me because we don’t get theatre like this in my area. Everything is very safe and conservative. It’s either the village panto or something really expensive and unrelatable. By taking Half Breed home I wanted to challenge audiences and surprise them with the power of theatre, to show that it can draw you in like the cinema does. Not gonna lie – obviously it was scary to take something so personal and exposing back home, I wasn’t sure how it was gonna be received. But in order to make changes within my area and open people’s minds, to help others in similar situations to feel less alone, I knew that this was a step I HAD to take. I wanted to open a discussion on a topic we don’t speak about, as well as bringing everyone together, because we have all experienced being an outsider at some point.

Half Breed is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester (31 May-2 June)

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