I met Paul in 1981 when I was 20 and he 21. He came to my house in Kensal Green accompanied by Tara Arts director Jatinder Verma, the founder of the UK’s first Asian theatre company. Jatinder had good cause to feel he should accompany Paul to this meeting. All he knew from my conversation with him on the ‘phone was that we were an independent touring theatre company looking for an Asian actor with a romantic nature to play a ticket collector at Camden Town underground station who is stabbed towards the end of the play by a racist skinhead. The Asian character as a victim. Typical white perspective, he must have thought. We were a large cast of 18, a large number of whom had been asked to shave their heads for the play. I overheard someone asking the box office staff who was rehearsing in the theatre and receiving the response, ‘Oh some bunch of teenage yobs’. The play and its cast made all the characters victims of some sort of prejudice or another.
We were due to debut the production called ‘Tube’ at the Cockpit Arts Theatre in West London. The whole theatre had been dressed as an underground station and climaxed with a riot in which most of the set was broken up by an intimidating and visually aggressive bunch of skinheads. My first play was not a sophisticated piece of work, but it was driven by the murder of an Asian ticket collector in the East End and the scenes I witnessed waiting at Camden Town station for 90 minutes prior to a violent gig at the Music Machine venue (now Koko) nearby. I wanted the audience to get to know all the characters whose lives are smashed by the act of violence at the end. To understand the inner lives even of the disturbed, repressed and abused young man who stabs his victim.
Paul was nervous, quiet and shy, but with Jatinder’s approval and encouragement he agreed to be in the play with this funny bunch of largely white teenagers and musicians. It must have been an intimidating prospect, but he was an absolute revelation. He fleshed out a character with even more charm and romance than I had written, so that when he was attacked, the audience audibly groaned. The play was designed to attract young people who never went to the theatre. It was about something they knew about and it featured people their own age. Punk poet Patrik Fitzgerald played a busker and joyful performance poet and musician Attila the Stockbroker played a set in the play’s interval. The youth of the nearby Lisson Green estate turned out in force and we were packed out most nights. It was a joyful and terrifically bonding experience and Paul became more relaxed and funny as the run progressed.
Over the years I kept up with his career and watched him master his craft. He acquired gravitas and insight always carrying a tremendous authenticity, particularly in the theatre. 50 is a dangerous age for a man. Anxiety and depression are often the ruffians lurking on your stair after this age. I can’t imagine what sadness lurked within him, but watching his amused and playful gaze in ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ accompanied by that thoughtfully modulated deep voice, you can see the wealth of talent and experience he had gained in his career. He shone and we all bathed in the glow. That’s potential realised and a life well-lived. Goodbye Paul.