Combustion at the Bradford Literature Festival

31 July 2017

Asif Khan playwright blog.

Combustion, my debut play set in Bradford, had played in London at Tara Theatre, Arcola Theatre and RADA.

Following this, it toured to Norwich, Margate, Hexham and South Shields. But it was it’s single performance in my hometown of Bradford, as part of the Bradford Literature Festival, which was the most exciting and nerve-racking prospect for me. The play involves five characters from Bradford, four of which are British Muslims. The provocative language and sexual references were plentiful. The issues I wanted to tackle were sensitive, challenging and contentious, for Muslims and non-Muslims. The comedy in the writing was, well, things I found funny at least! The audiences so far had taken the play very well. How would it go down in front of the very people this play is about?

July 7th. The day was here. I was on my way from my London to Bradford. I was told we had a full house at the Alhambra Studio. Fantastic. But, I had some friends and family I was desperately trying to somehow squeeze in. Luckily the Alhambra managed to increase the capacity by twenty extra seats.

As the audience entered the theatre I came across many old friends and also my family who were seeing the show for the first time. ‘Does it have anything rude in it?’ my dad asked!

I sat at the very back of the auditorium with director Nona Shepphard. Looking at the diverse mix of people there, waiting for the show to start. As a writer, it’s out of your control from this point. It’s all in the hands of the actors. All you can do is sit and grit your teeth. Thankfully, there was plenty of laughter and the audience seemed very engaged in the story. At the interval, I received very positive feedback from various audience members, especially Muslim members, who got the humour, characters and appreciated the issues I was trying to tackle.

The show finished with a generous round of applause and some audience members taking selfies on the stage.

At the post show Q & A many stayed behind. A close family friend of my father (Muhammed Akram Khan-Cheema OBE) chaired the discussion, with myself, the director and the actors. The response was incredible and I couldn’t have been happier. Many of the Muslim women commented on how much they identified with the character of Samina, how accurate Shireen Farkhoy’s portrayal of the role was, and how they knew many friends like her. The real ‘Bradford Women For Peace’ group were also present, of which I took much inspiration for the play and they were hugely complimentary.

All in all, I couldn’t have been more pleased. It was probably the most diverse audience at a theatre I had seen in a very long time. I’m constantly urging my own community to visit the theatre much more, as generally, especially in Bradford, they rarely go to the theatre. I’ve certainly never seen a Muslim woman wearing a Niqab at the theatre! But I was incredibly happy to see so many at the Alhambra Studio on the evening! Old and young, Islamic dress, non-Islamic dress, the variety of Muslims present in a theatre, made me glow with pride. It was precisely what I was trying to get across in the play. That there is not just one type of Muslim, but a whole diverse range, with different outlooks and views. Basically, we are all humans and not one human is the same as another!

The evening couldn’t be complete without a visit to my favourite place to eat in Bradford, My Lahore. Naan’s were eaten, lassi’s were downed. I arrived home, a happy and stuffed writer.

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