They do say walk before you run, but for theatre-maker Neetu Singh, doing both is happily, and speedily, starting to make a name for herself.
Born and brought up in Hackney, East London, Neetu is currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at Cambridge University and is also one of the creatives on the Mercury Theatre’s directors’ programme for 2022/2023.
By very happy coincidence, Neetu’s latest job is assistant director on the latest show to grace the Colchester stage, Run Rebel.
The play is based on multi-award winning novelist Manjeet Mann’s debut YA book, shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2021 and winner of the UKLA and Diverse Book awards. It was also a Guardian best book of 2020.
Staged by York-based Pilot Theatre, in a co-production with the Mercury here in Colchester; as well as the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Derby Theatre and York Theatre Royal, rehearsals are taking place at the Mercury, which is why Neetu is here.
“It was just a job I applied for,” Neetu tells me. “Pilot have such a great reputation and I was super excited to be a part of this production, being back here in Colchester was just such a lovely bonus.”
Directed by Tessa Walker, in a new adaptation by the author, Run Rebel tells the story of Amber, a young girl deftly defining her place in the world, as she navigates a difficult home life and bullying at school with sanctuary coming through her one escape of running and running fast.
Run Rebel is the fourth production in Pilot’s series of adaptations of the work of contemporary young adult authors. The project has sought to bring brand new stories to the stage for young adults and secondary school age children, introducing them to characters who are living and experiencing the world as they are too in the 2020s. of Noughts and Crosses and The Bone Sparrow.
Neetu adds: “It’s about not running away from your troubles, but running towards your dreams. It feels like a story I’m really at home with. It’s my third gig, after jobs with the Southwark Playhouse and my first one which was the touring production of Kabul Goes Pop, which was also here at the Mercury.”
As well as working with other theatre companies, Neetu is hoping to stage her debut professional show with her own group, Haldi & Co, which she first set up while a student at Oxford University.
“I studied English at Oxford because I was interested in telling stories,” she adds. “I was inspired by an English teacher who was also South Asian, who gave me a copy of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which basically changed my life.
“Telling stories through theatre came out of nowhere really. Theatre at Oxford felt a bit posh and was something people like me didn’t do but then I became the president of the university’s South Asian Arts Society and at the end of my year, we started up an annual arts showcase.
“I don’t know what we expected but suddenly all these people started to appear. We didn’t realise the South Asian community was so large there or that it was filled with some incredibly talented people. We sold 250 tickets in the end, it was a huge success, and I had definitely got the bug.”
Haldi & Co and Neetu’s play, What Happens When Your World Breaks Down, came out of the pandemic when Neetu put a call out for like-minded creatives, and was the university’s first original script staged by a cast and crew made-up of South Asian women.
“We sold out both nights it was on,” she reveals, “which was very satisfying. We’re now associate artists with Tamasha and are hoping to getting funding for a tour of the show.”
But while she’s ‘running’ with her own work, she’s also continuing to ‘walk’, learning everything she can from some of the country’s best theatre professionals.
Neetu says: “Being on the Mercury Programme has been a wonderful learning opportunity for me, just coming in and soaking it all up. There’s five of us on the programme but at some stage I’m hoping we’re going to be joining up with the writers on the theatre’s other programme, and who knows what might come out of that.”
Run Rebel begins its run at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester this Saturday, February 25, until Saturday, March 4, when it then goes on tour to four other venues; York, Derby, Coventry, and Alnwick
For tickets go to mercurytheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 01206 573948.
To find out more about Neetu and her theatre company go to