By day Nick Ahad is the long-serving theatre critic of the Yorkshire Post. By night he is directing A Muslamic Love Story, which he has also written.
Ahad’s latest work had a short run last year and attracted the sort of flak he routinely dishes out with one scribe suggesting he had made the schoolboy error of tackling too many themes.
“That was my colleague at the Yorkshire Post Rob McPhee who said that in a review, and when he came into work he said ‘I feel I bit awkward writing this,’” recalls Ahad. “I said I asked you to review and I’m a professional so I want it reviewed properly. I really appreciated his honesty and a lot of the things he said were really spot on as the piece last year was almost a showcase of an idea I wanted to try out.
“I spent a long time taking on all the feedback and we now have funding from the Arts Council so in the last few weeks I’ve been working with the cast and they are saying it feels like a new production. It has the same spine of the story, but it feels like a very different piece of work, so hopefully it hasn’t got those schoolboy errors in it. As much as I wanted to talk about this subject I also wanted to write an interesting play as no-one wants to listen to a one hour 15 minute lecture.”
But it must be hard sitting in a dark theatre opining on other people’s work they have sweated blood over and then heading off to the rehearsal room to direct your own play?
“What I’ve realised was that, because I’ve been a critic for such a long time and have relationships with a lots of people who make work in West Yorkshire, I wondered if I would be compromised and I started to feel like that,” Ahad muses. “But my harshest review was from Rod who I’ve worked alongside for ten years and he didn’t hold back because he is a professional theatre critic. It really reminded me that although I am a theatre critic, I am also a person, so I can separate all those things. I’m a very good theatre critic and I can look at pieces of work, but in the rehearsal room I am writing or directing a play.
“It was quite cool to see I can completely delineate the two different things as I’m still learning as a playwright, but I’m certainly not learning as a theatre critic as I’ve doing it 15 years. I now really understand the value of me being honest if it is a friend who has made a piece of work, there is no value in giving them a nice review because my friend gave me a bad review with was incredibly helpful because it was so astute. Your friends will never be entirely honest, and an audience will tell you, but I valued Rod’s honesty.”
A Muslamic Love Story is a gay love story with a very modern twist.
“There’s a black guy called Tony and an English guy called Dan and they are in a relationship, but Tony can’t tell his parents because they are Christians and in his community it would be frowned upon,” says Ahad. “Dan gets tired of waiting for Tony so he meets an Asian boy called Kasim. He falls in love with Kasim and they begin a relationship.
“Kasim does stand up to his family, even though he is Muslim, and tells them he is gay. Kasim and Dan are together and Tony is out the picture but he discovers his ex-boyfriend is with a Muslim. So Tony becomes violently Islamphobic and hates Muslims, but he manages to wiggle his way his way back into their lives. It’s about what happens when you have someone so consumed with hate like Tony, but Kasim’s story is about how he is rejected by his Muslim community and his family. It’s about their lives colliding and the tensions between the three of them.”
The homophobic attitudes of some people in minority communities is a pretty touchy topic to take on so early in a writing career.
“Maybe some of it is something about me being mixed race and I was a poor kid in a posh school on a scholarship so I had the mickey taken out of me and I always feel like I am on the side of the oppressed. But I think the lines have become really blurred in recent times – once you were liberal or not liberal – but it is less like a line and has become like a bloody grid. To me the most oppressed minority in Britain today are Muslims, but at the same time how can such an oppressed minority then oppress another minority which is what the play is about. I don’t have an answer, but it fills me with sadness that we can’t move past that.
“I’m really pleased with the way the play is looking and we’ve worked incredibly hard to get it right. I watched it last night and a couple of scenes really moved me so I hope people will watch a piece of work that holds their attention for an hour or so. The one thing I hope is that they think about how we find ourselves in a place where we find so many reasons to hate and so few not to. It sounds cheesy, but just live and let live.”
By Paul Clarke
A Muslamic Love Story is at Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill from November 7 to November 9, 2013.