R & D Chappal


The Case of the missing sandal  –

Created by Bureau of Silly Ideas and Nutkhut

I was shocked, I didn’t expect to find a giant Chappal at a Mela, it reminded me of what my Dad used to say to me as a joke! I followed the show in my Chappals with my grandchildren

Balbinder Kaur Ahlulwalia aged 69 – Sandwell and Birmingham Mela 2018

The Process

The initial premise, through an R&D process, was to create a culturally diverse and significant walkabout act for the wider outdoor, Mela and festival sectors. This first phase was essentially an extended sketch which we plan to develop and present in 2019.

We have had much fun and success over the years, in taking symbolic everyday objects or phrases which resonate with the South Asian community and adding comedic British eccentricity and presenting them in unconventional ways and settings.

Couldn’t pronounce it, didn’t know what it meant but I laughed out loud when the little Pakistani lady next to me explained.  A great way to understand each other and bring together people who wouldn’t normally talk to each other.

Andrew Barnes aged 24, Tunbridge Wells

The Approach

The basic premise – Whilst on holiday, Aunt-ji’s favourite antique sandal goes missing, which results in a bumbling international investigation between two police forces, Inspector Daal and Sergeant Sole.

Chappal’ in Hindi/Punjabi/Urdu translates to sandal and the word is used extensively by communities from all faiths in India & Pakistan – Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Christian. The word is used as a fun reference to refer to: ‘You’ll get the Chappal’ when your mum/dad gets home’ – it has successfully demonstrated the potential to promote diverse work to outdoor festivals and audiences.


Our process in creating walkabout shows, has always been simple – to think about the audiences we serve – to present the familiar in an extraordinary way. The very word ‘Chappal’ brings out a smile – Chappals are the preffered choice of footwear for the community – there are posh Chappals, everyday Chappals and the Chappal you’d always avoid i.e. Mum and Dad’s Chappal!

On first impressions, its easy for this type of work we produce to be overlooked – but once you go beyond the first impressions and become familiar with the context, the meaning and the cultural significance and most importantly when we start to see the joy and delight on the faces of people who understand the wider meaning, the work begins to come alive in a different sort of way. It becomes fun, silly, but deeply meaningful. By being closely connected to audiences that don’t normally attend festivals or theatres or live events, we have a special connection – because once upon a time, not so long ago, we never attended theatres or shows, or recitals, or anything of the sort.

Will it work?

We test all of our shows as an R & D before we unleash our stories out to the public – sometimes we do this through an invited audience, on other occasions, without fanfare or publicity, we will slip a piece of work into a corner of field at a festival  – this gives us an opportunity to see how audiences react, what the show needs and how we can adapt to our surroundings.

The Reach

We’ve spent many years encouraging people of all ages, of all walks of life and largely people who’ve never walked into a theatre or a festival to come along and participate or watch or both! We do this by talking to people in a way they feel comfortable, we speak different languages, we speak in the way our audiences speak and little by little it makes a difference. Not everyone comes, but when they do, they tend to stay or come back – we are proud of our intergenerational and multilingual approach which reflects our staff. We are more interested in who you are, rather than what or where you have studied or what you’ve shows you’ve seen. All we ask for is a sense of humour – you can learn everything else!

The Future

We tested the piece as an R & D –  presented at two diverse festivals; in Tunbridge Wells in Kent and at Sandwell & Birmingham Mela. This short film  was made at the Sandwell/Birmingham Mela and captures the delight and enthusiasm of the R & D which drew audiences in and which has encouraged us to think about the shows future. We plan to develop Chappal and create a full show for 2019.




Summer 1858: The Big Stink. London’s rivers filled with sewage and the House of Commons was forced to stop sitting because of the smell from the Thames. In the ensuing decades, modern London started to take shape as the environmental catastrophe engulfing the City forced the pace of change. During the first underground work to create a modern sewer system, many of London’s rivers were encased in concrete and disappeared from view.

Summer 2014: London faces up to the need to its growing population, renovating the aging 19th century sewerage system. As the new ‘Super Sewer’ is created, a forgotten world of underground rivers and ancient tunnels, buried 154 years ago, is revealed

Source is a show created and delivered by Cirque Bijou and Nutkhut. It is a legacy project from, Showtime, London’s largest outdoor street arts festival. Circulate is a consortium of venues: arts depot, The Albany, Harrow Arts Centre, Millfield Theatre, Tara Arts and Watermans and together commissioned Source.

London Mela

Ajay Chhabra has been the driving force behind the creation vision and development of the London Mela since its inception.

Nutkhut have been involved with every aspect of the design and content of the event which has rapidly grown to become Europe’s largest Mela.

Critically acclaimed, it features the best in classical music, British Asian urban artists, dance, comedy and cabaret, Asian-influenced street theatre and circus, and exhibitions. And with a third of the audience from non-Asian communities, it is a truly inter-cultural family event with something for every generation of every community. Its audiences have grown from 60,000 in the early years to 92,000 at its peak.

In addition the event has received excellent media exposure via radio on BBC Asian Network and BBC London and on TV through coverage on the BBC2 via the red button, but also through commercial media coverage on Sky TV, ITV, Reuters and Getty Images. The event is strategically important for the UK’s Mela sector through its global media coverage. It is the largest south Asian cultural festival in Europe, in terms of breadth of programme, number of participating artists and size of audience.

The Mela takes place in 30 acres of Gunnersbury Park in West London and is a unique, one off show, which showcases and celebrates Mela in all its forms.

Ajay Chhabra has worked with a number of pan European organisations within the realm of Mela, in cities as diverse as Oslo, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Berlin. He has advised on strategic goals at government level, with charitable bodies and commercial sponsors and more recently in developing policy with organisations such as Arts Council England. Extracts of his paper ‘Mela in Europe’, are widely used to describe Mela and appears as the standard wikipedia entry used by Mela organisations across the Union.

“Like all good festivals, there was an element of the wild and weird” – Daily Telegraph

Links www.londonmela.org

Nutkhut Carnival

Consisting of live music, spectacular performance and pyrotechnics, Nutkhut create unique immersive parades and processions that adapt to different events and festivals.

We work in partnership with our host event, and assist in devising, creating and delivery a participatory programme which feed directly into the event – creating performance, costume and narrative as closely as possible with the participants, bringing a clear sense of ownership.

The community participants are the stars with support from the Nutkhut Team.

We’ve worked with Cirque Bijou, Kinetika Design Studio, Ealing Council, Town Hall Birmingham, Derby Feste, Preston Mela and many more to create parades and processions tailored to events across the UK.

We work in bringing the best live elements and Nutkhut creations into your event, including Swyron, Stilt Princesses and Maharajahs, Sari Sari Nights and Mannequins. Contact us about building your own parade or procession with us and your community at connect@nutkhut.co.uk or call us on +44 (0) 7958 454 232!

Sari Sari Nights

Originally commissioned by ArtsAgenda for the opening night of Derby Feste in September 2010 the parade unveils a hidden history of the iconic Indian Sari Shop Mannequin of the 1960s and 70s.

Over the past ten years, Nutkhut’s co-Artistic Director Simmy Gupta has scoured many basements of long established sari-shops (from Birmingham’s Soho Road or London’s Green Street) and built up a collection of unique Indian-made mannequins. With their bouffant hair and voluptous breasts, they embody the universal metaphor of our cultural obsession with the female form; its idealisation and its decay. Simmy refuses to allow these mannequins gather dust in basements and back rooms around Britain’s Asian epicentres before they tell their stories of fashion, femininity and identity.

Nutkhut has presented a series of unique performance pieces incorporating parades, dance and installations with the Mannequins (including their spinning mannequin Miss Benn). The Mannequins series can be designed and adapted to fit different locations and budgets. Specific animatronics, film projections, performances and digital soundscapes can be commissioned and designed to fit different event’s requirements alongside the series.

Sari Sari Nights is one module of Nutkhut’s Mannequins Series.


Weaving in and out of the audience, the company of tailors has the audience in stitches as they comically share the various tricks of their trade. Watch out – the tailors are about!

Having broken free from the confines of Saville Row, the suited and booted tailors will invite you to engage in their services.

Mixing the slapstick and parody of ‘Are You Being Served’ with the distinctive friendliness and skill of the classic Indian tailor, the mischievous tailors will undoubtedly cause trouble wherever they go.

Bespoke is based on original material written by Ajay Chhabra and Eric MacLennan and co-created by the Bespoke Company.

The Bespoke Company:

Director: Peta Lily

Ensemble: Bhawna Bhawsar, Benjamin Samuels, Jessica White, Tobias Wilson

Costume Maker: Kat Cruickshank

Bespoke is one module of Nutkhut’s Mannequins Series.

Stilt Characters

Stilt walking has been at the heart of Nutkhut’s creative vision for a decade, a skill they embraced for its unique ability to enchant and disarm audiences, irrespective of age or background.

If performance is an exaggeration of real life then stilt walking acts as a natural amplifier. Effortlessly comedic, celebratory and unpretentious it is an art form that has existed for millennia yet still resonates with contemporary audiences by injecting an iconic twist into the everyday and familiar.

Meet the Nutkhut stilt-walking family…

Take the arresting presence of policeman Captain Mumbai, who gives a whole new meaning to the long arm of the law.

The Princesses may be draped in stunning jewels and silks, but don’t expect these down-to-earth divas not to have an eye for high street bargains and cute boys amongst charmed and chuckling crowds.

The Three Kings are a reimagining of the Christmas fable with a uniquely Nutkhut twist, bringing frivolity to the road to Bethlehem.

Meanwhile, The Maharajahs are the authentic Indian princes of posing, only ever out-blinged by The DJs, musical superstars (in their own bedrooms) who are the life and soul of any party with their uber-cool Bhangra beats.

“It was very exciting working with Nutkhut’s Princesses. They were a key part of Oxfam in creating awareness about our far reaching initiatives and are wonderful ambassadors!”

Kalyani Ghandi-Rhodes, Oxfam

“These guys rock!”

Tim Westwood – BBC Radio 1