This is the Life! Behind the scenes

8 November 2022

Following an overwhelmingly positive reaction in the summer, Welsh National Opera’s epic new opera, Migrations, is on tour as part of the Company’s Autumn 2022 Season. One of the six stories that form the plot, This is the Life!, is written by the award-winning author, Shreya Sen-Handley. Humorous yet relevant, this tale follows the experiences of two young Indian doctors working in the NHS. We sat down with Shreya to hear about her creative journey, from writing the piece to seeing it staged.

What inspired you to write this story?

When WNO approached me to write a libretto about migration for a brand-new opera, they asked only that it be colourful and lively in the manner of many Bollywood films. 

It struck me immediately that Indian/South Asian doctors working for the NHS in the UK is one such story of triumph, though not without a history of tribulations. In Wales alone, Indian GPs make up approximately 70% of doctors in the country and are crucial to its functioning.

I knew it should be a comedy, albeit a dark comedy that does not minimise the hardships of migrant medical staff to this nation. A fact about human nature that comic writers employ, is that if you can make people laugh, they are more likely to embrace your testimony. 

Two Indian doctors stand, embracing, and calling out to the audience

What did it feel like to watch your story come to life on stage?

As an author, my work is very solitary by nature, so it was wonderful working with a team of such enormously gifted people, revelling in our shared strengths, even as we delighted in the diversity of our creations. And what a joy it was to see my creations come alive on stage via our talented cast and crew.

What was it like seeing the audience’s reaction on opening night?

I had hoped for warm approbation from the audience, but what I got was thunderous applause, with whoops of delight on top.

I had approached the premiere with some trepidation, even though I have hundreds of publications to my name including three well-received books, and a play or two staged before, but nothing on the scale of this epic production. When the audience expressed such joy in our creation, I was simply blown away, and couldn’t be happier.

Being amid a hugely receptive audience showing such enthusiasm, is unlike anything I have known before, and I feel truly fortunate to be a vital part of this fabulous opera. 

four bollywood dancers dressed in white doctors coats dance

Why do you think this story is important for audiences to hear?

It is important for audiences to have windows into the lives of others, to see that not everyone has the same experiences, and that this vast range of experiences outside our own don’t fit preconceived notions.

But I also want audiences to realise how much we all have in common, how universal our experiences of love, joy, frustration, disappointment, and more are. As a result, there’s so much in This Is The Life! that opera audiences can relate to, and in making that connection, the message of harmony in diversity goes home. 

Experience Migrationsand Shreya’s This is the Life! on tour until 26 November.