Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Shahid Iqbal Khan: Ten Nights

By | Published on Friday 8 October 2021

When I first read about ‘10 Nights’, which opens at The Bush Theatre shortly, I was really keen to find out more about the play, not least because at its focus is an islamic practice – itikaf – that I had never heard of before.

Though, while the play does focus on a character taking part in this rite, it is – of course – about more than just that: audiences will witness one man’s funny and moving journey of self discovery over the course of ten days.

To get a bit more background on the production, I spoke to writer Shahid Iqbal Khan.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the narrative of ‘10 Nights’? Whose story does it tell?
SIK: It tells the story of Yasser, a British Pakistani Muslim man in his late 20s, who decides to observe itikaf in the last ten nights of Ramadan in his local mosque. The play is about his emotional and spiritual journey through those ten nights.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
SIK: It’s about many things. Fractured friendships, disconnect with spirituality and rediscovering that connection, the sense of community and how that community can care for you in unexpected ways.

CM: What was the inspiration for the play? What made you want to write something with these themes?
SIK: I observed itikaf about eleven years ago. When I was trying to think of a fifteen minute monologue piece for my assignment on a writing programme – Graeae Theatre’s Write To Play – it occurred to me that the practice of itikaf isn’t really that well-known outside of the Muslim community. I thought it would be interesting to give a little insight into this tradition.

CM: How would you describe it in terms of genre? Is it drama? Comedy?
SIK: I would say it’s equal parts drama and comedy.

CM: Have you been involved in the production of the play at all? Or do you hand over the text and step back…?
SIK: I tend to kind of step back. However, I don’t completely cut myself off. I say hello to the creative team during the first two days of rehearsals and answer any questions that they may have. Then I also like to be around during tech week and previews for any last minute changes.

CM: What drew you into writing plays? Was that always your intended direction?
SIK: I watched the old Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor film ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’ about 20 years ago. I was blown away by the mature themes being explored in a 1950’s Hollywood film. But when I read the credits and saw that it was based on a play, it made me see theatre in a new light. It made me see theatre as a place that is fearless and open to taboo ideas.

CM: What steps have you taken to become a playwright?
SIK: I wrote a play. That always helps! Then I became attached to a theatre company, Phizzical Productions, who I kind of already knew through my acting endeavours. They agreed to produce my play and to put it on for a couple of nights. That was really educational and my learning as a playwright only really began after I sat in the audience and watched my play with everybody else.

CM: What aims do you have for your writing in the future?
SIK: I don’t have any lofty aims or ambitions. But I would like to carry on writing regardless, to explore and play with form and to find exciting ways of storytelling.

CM: You have an attachment with the Royal Court and Graeae coming up – what does it entail?
SIK: My 2022 attachment is a co-commission, so at the very least it will include writing a play. The year will also entail measures to help develop and build on my creative practice. This process is pretty fluid and flexible and that’s what attracted me to it. I get to shape the year according to what I need as an artist.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
SIK: Graeae Theatre and Naked Productions have produced a five part radio drama series with five writers, ‘The Night Of The Living Flatpacks’. I wrote one of the episodes. The show will air on community channels in November. Can’t wait to listen to it!

Shahid Iqbal Khan’s ‘10 Nights’ is on at The Bush Theatre from 14 Oct until 6 November. Visit the venue website here for more info and to book tickets.