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Photo credit @ Nicola Young

Interview: Finding the fun of fasting for Ramadan

Azan Ahmed on performing in 10 Nights

Azan Ahmed is an award-winning scriptwriter, with an Offies win under his belt for Daytime Deewane last year. Alongside that, his acting career is really taking off, with recent performances at The National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe and in the TV series Van der Valk. Now he’s back on the fringe in a one man performance of Shahid Iqbal Khan’s acclaimed 10 Nights, at the Omnibus Theatre. We were delighted to take ten minutes to ask him more about the play and his role in it.

Hi Azan. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about 10 Nights. Firstly, can you explain a bit about the title of the show?

Thanks so much for having me! 10 Nights spans one man’s spiritual journey across the last 10 nights of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. These last 10 nights are the most auspicious and the character I play, Yasser, takes part in Itikaf. This is a voluntary process of meditating, sleeping and praying in the mosque for 10 whole nights. Like a spiritual detox.

What kind of character is Yasser?

Yasser is a witty, petty and paranoid charmer. He feels like a fake wannabe Muslim, but is too proud to ask for help. He also loves chunky chips and TikTok. However, Yasser has some secrets he’s afraid to confront.

The idea of fasting sounds like a really challenging thing to do – are there any laughs in this play?

The play is hilarious! As challenging and as spiritually grounding as fasting is, this story is told through Yasser’s eyes – and he has a one-liner for everything and everyone he meets. The hilarity is in the honesty here. All the delirium that comes with food cravings, boredom and long nights of prayer are tackled light-heartedly. This play has the perfect balance of poking fun at righteousness whilst showcasing the beauty of Ramadan.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a play set in a mosque before, or with Urdu and Arabic included. What kind of audiences do you think these features open the work up to?

This gorgeous story builds two bridges of empathy and connection. Its cultural and religious specificity allows British Muslims to see themselves reflected on stage with care and heart – a rare sight unfortunately. The more we see positive representation, the safer Muslims feel to pursue a career in theatre. Just think of the untapped potential which could be ignited from watching this play! Even my grandma could come and watch because of our Urdu captions.

It also provides non-Muslim theatregoers an entertaining insight into a sacred time for us. A story about people trying to be better in a bleak world: humanising Muslims at a time where we’re being dehumanised. Which leaves each audience recognising there’s more that unites us than divides us.

How does it feel coming back to the stage after your successful TV roles?

It’s such a thrill to return to the stage! I love filming TV, but nothing beats the electricity you feel from a live audience. It’s exciting to go from big spaces and casts like the National and Globe to a really intimate play where I’m alone on stage playing all the roles! The only people I have to bounce off of are the audience. But I love that. Each audience will resonate and respond differently, which means I have the privilege of tailoring my performance, keeping them guessing and connecting with them so we can share a unique journey that night.

10 Nights saw writer Shahid Iqbal Khan nominated for an Olivier Award, and you yourself received an Offie last year for your own writing – how’s it been combining your talents in this project? What have you both brought to it?

Shahid’s script is phenomenally beautiful. Every line is so clear yet so layered, I’m mentally taking notes for when I write my next play! Having Shahid in the room, we’ve spent time discussing and playing with who each of the men in this play are outside the mosque. All of this vital information helps me physicalise and vocalise each character with depth. Shahid is calming and so considered with his offers and I’m quite a physical performer. So the combo (hopefully) makes for dynamic, engaging and clear storytelling!

Thanks very much to Azan for taking the time to chat with us. There’s still time to catch him on stage as 10 Nights runs at the Omnibus Theatre until 21 February. Tickets and more information can be found here.

About Mary Pollard

By her own admission Mary goes to the theatre far too much, and will watch just about anything. Her favourite musical is Matilda, which she has seen 16 times, but she’s also an Anthony Neilson and Shakespeare fan - go figure. She has a long history with Richmond Theatre, but is currently helping at Shakespeare's Globe as a steward and in the archive. She's also having fun being ET's specialist in children's theatre and puppetry, and being a Super Assessor for the Offies! Mary now insists on being called The Master having used the Covid pandemic to achieve an award winning MA in London's Theatre and Performance.