Janet Steel, director of Amber Lone's new play Deadeye, talks to Terry Grimley about the precarious state of new Asian theatre.
Until anti-terrorist police arrive to kick in doors, relatively little outside attention is paid to Birmingham's predominantly Asian inner city areas.
The words Alum Rock, for example, are rarely heard on the lips of the city's chattering classes. But Amber Lone's new play Deadeye, just opened at Birmingham Rep's studio theatre, The Door, takes us behind the front door of one struggling Kashmiri family in that part of the city.
It's the second play by Amber Lone produced at the Rep, following 2003's prophetic Paradise, a pre-7/7 study of how a young Asian man might be persuaded to turn against Western values to become a religious fundamentalist.
"It's centred around a family that's dysfunctional because they are in poverty with no means of getting out of it," explains Deadeye's director, Janet Steel.
"The children have suffered greatly from this. One of them has become a heroin addict and the other is trying to keep the family together.
"The fact is that they're a Kashmiri family but it could really be about any family.
Birmingham is a very diverse city, but just around this area [outside the Rep] I've seen so many young people on the street who look despairing. So it's pretty easy to see that it isn't working for everyone, which is quite shocking.
"The people I have seen on the street round here aren't Asian, they're white. It's a very affluent city in some areas and in other areas not."
Steel, a former actress who has been artistic director of Kali Theatre, a company specialising in work by Asian women writers, since 2003, describes Amber Lone as "an extremely precise writer with a great skill for writing scenes that are very complex.
"They're difficult to watch sometimes, because they go to the core of things. So I do think she is a very brave writer. Some of the scenes in this play are extraordinary. It's been very challenging working on it, but in a good way."
The play talks about the dreams the parents had of a better life and how difficult it is to realise them.
"Sometimes if your dreams are too big it incapacitates you and you can't do anything. The father in the play is like that - he doesn't dream of buying a flat, he dreams of buying a #1.9m house."
Janet Steel is a passionate advocate of new Asian theatre, but two years ago the cause suffered a major setback when Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's play Bezhti, which she directed, was forced to close because of violence by Sikh protesters.
"There are moments when you're sitting in the Rep and you get flashbacks and try to rationalise how it all happened," she says.
"I think what happened with Bezhti has set us back maybe ten years. What's happened is that it's causing more segregation. People are afraid that if they put on an Asian play it will cause problems.
"So little work by black and Asian writers is produced that some people think the only way to get it done is to have black theatres to produce the work."
One problem Steel identifies is that the limited opportunities for production of Asian work leads to a certain rawness. Writers tend to write directly from personal experience, without the kind of mediation of controversial subjects found in experienced playwrights like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.
But she adds: "I do feel very strongly, too, that it's important for theatres to be able to deal with very difficult issues and it should be a safe environment for that to take place."
It's not always easy to predict what will cause offence. Since Bezhti she has returned to the Rep to direct Yasmin Whittaker Khan's Bells, about the little-known world of Pakistani brothels, which passed off without problems.
"Asian women are telling stories that have not been told like this before.
"Some people will just find that interesting, some will find it disturbing, some will find it exciting.
"What happened to British theatre in the 1950s with the influx of working class writers, I think exactly the same thing is happening now. You are getting new voices in a white middle-class environment that are saying different things that haven't been said before.
"The responsibility for artists and companies that produce that work is too huge a responsibility to bear sometimes.
"What is happening politically in the world at the moment is causing such intense pressure in Britain and other parts of the world that we could be close to the verge of destroying the beautiful things we had in this society. People's human and civil rights are being taken away from them.
"But I was brought up by a very broad-minded Tamil father who taught me to respect everybody."
Steel feels the Rep deserves credit for its continuing commitment to new Asian writing, but she says: "It's very hard for Asian theatre to have a voice. We struggle on a daily basis. Theatre in Britain is not reflective of the place we work in.
"We all pay taxes. The RSC and the National Theatre get an enormous amount of money, but proportionately the work they produce does not represent the people who pay those taxes.
"I feel very strongly about that. Cities like Birmingham have a very mixed community and the Rep has a responsibility to represent the society that's here in the city."
* Deadeye is at The Door, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, until October 28 (Box office: 0121 236 4455).