Sociology theatre trip to see ‘Our White Skoda Octavia’
On Friday 29th October students and staff from the Department of Sociology went to see a play called ‘Our White Skoda Octavia’ at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford. The trip was organised by Vicki Harman and Venetia Evergeti for final year students taking the module ‘Cultures of Race and Racism’ and second year students studying ‘Migration and the Politics of Identity’.
‘I thought the play was really good and relevant to what we have been learning about’.Sociology student
‘Our White Skoda Octavia’ is a play about family life, with the narrative being accompanied by a tabla drumscape. It depicts the experiences of a working class South Asian family – the Afridi family - who have migrated to the East of England and who are active in the taxi cab business. It provides a picture of the changing fortunes of the Afridi family over ten years – depicting transforming marital, sibling and parent-child relationships within the wider social and political landscape.
The play was written by the sociologist Shamser Sinha who travelled to Guildford to watch the play with our group and gave students the opportunity to ask him any questions they had. Many of the students were already familiar with some of Shamser’s sociological work, having been reading his book, Migrant City, which is co-written with Les Back, as part of their studies.
‘Our White Skoda Octavia’ was inspired by Shamser’s conversations with residents in Ipswich and Peterborough. It was first performed in Ipswich on 6th October 2021 and has since toured a number of theatres including those in Colchester, Great Yarmouth, Sudbury, Bedford, Peterborough and Derby. At the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford the play was performed in the intimate setting of the Mill studio which added to the immediacy of the story being told. For example, representations of racism felt particularly close and pressing. As the playwright said: ‘In such a small space there is less room for you to squirm away. Empathy is potentially present when you are seeing and hearing a story that is happening right in front of you’.
For the Department of Sociology this was a particularly memorable trip not just because of the poignant subject matter but because it was our first group field trip held since the coronavirus pandemic began. For many attending the performance it was their first time in a theatre for a couple of years due to the closures and restrictions, and for some students it was their first trip to the Yvonne Arnaud. Being able to watch and discuss a play related to themes and concepts relevant to the modules (such as culture, identity and racism) together outside of the classroom was enjoyed and appreciated by students and staff alike.
Vicki Harman, Programme Director for Sociology said ‘It was lovely to be able to take students to the theatre to see a play relevant to their studies. Through studying sociology at the University of Surrey students are being trained to listen carefully to people’s stories and to analyse and present what they have heard in an ethical manner. This play is a great illustration of how one outcome of using our sociological imaginations might not be an academic text such as a journal article or a monograph but a creative format which can engage with audiences in different ways. I hope that seeing this play will inspire our students as they continue on their sociological journeys. Personally, I found the play very moving and I found myself thinking about the Afridi family and their experiences for days afterwards.'
Student feedback on their experience of the trip included the following:
‘I thought the play was really good and relevant to what we have been learning about’.
‘Great play. Great insight into the lives of a different community’.
‘It was a nice chance to speak to other students and it related well to the course’.
‘I really enjoyed it…it made me think of how important it is to defend others’.
Further field trips for students in the Department of Sociology are being planned.