AN OTLEY playwright is preparing to direct his latest work - in India.

Neil Rathmell’s UNBORN explores the place of girls and women in Indian society and is based on the personal experiences of students at Punjabi University, in Patiala.

Mr Rathmell will also be working with a cast of 30 MA English Literature students at the northern Indian university when he oversees three performances of the play there during the last week of February.

He said: “We couldn’t have done it without WhatsApp.

“For the last few months the students have been using it to send me information and personal testimony to help me understand the issues.

“I have been responding by sending them drafts of scenes for them to comment on, and help me improve.”

In keeping with its theme, all parts in the production - male and female - will be played by women.

Mr Rathmell, who saw two of his comedies performed at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds last summer, describes his new play as great example of collaboration.

He said: “It’s been a joint effort.

“Some of the speeches were written by the students and some of my speeches have been re-written by them.

“They formed a student committee to hold auditions and decide on casting.

“After working with them for several months online, I’m looking forward now to meeting them in person and working with them for six weeks on campus to bring the play to performance.”

Among the many instances of gender inequality the play deals with, one, concerning student curfews, was the cause of campus protests while the play was actually being written.

Mr Rathmell said: “Many of the female students I have been working with were protesting about the fact that female students, even MA students in their twenties, have to be in their hostels by 8pm every night, while male students can come and go as they please.

“The university was closed twice during the protests, which lasted for several weeks, but the women won a concession in the end.

“The curfew for female students has been extended by two hours but the inequality is still there and the protests will no doubt be resumed at some time in the future, until full equality is achieved.”

The writer grew up in Yorkshire but only moved back to the region in 2015, settling in Otley, after a long spell in Shropshire.

His long-standing links with India began when he set up and ran a youth arts exchange between Shropshire and India in the 1990s.

He added: “This play has been written very much in the spirit of that exchange.

“For me, personally, it has been an exciting and stimulating project from which I have learned a lot.

“Theatre is by its very nature a collaborative process - none more so than this.”

Following the Indian performances UNBORN will feature in the annual Writing On Air festival on Chapel FM radio station.

Then on Thursday, March 21, a cast of four female actors from Leeds Arts Centre will perform extracts from the play in a live broadcast, interspersed with recorded interviews with the Punjabi students.