Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Love, Bombs, & Dramaturgy: Hassan Abdulrazzak @ edfringe 2017

LoveBombs and Apples 
Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, 4 - 27 August 2017 (not 7, 14, 21) | 13:30 (14:30) 
EDINBURGH FRINGE PREMIERE

Set against the backdrop of worldwide political instability with the looming threat of civil unrest, three unrelated stories are brought to life using storytelling, political commentary and whip-smart humour.

What’s the inspiration for your performance?

Love, Bombs, & Apples” is a series of monologues about men with connections to the
Middle East. The idea for the show began all the way back in 2009, when I was attached to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). 

There was a young Asian actor, Asif Khan, who had a Muslim Asian background, which made him unusual from the rest of his classmates who mostly came from an upperclass English background. His teacher wanted me to write a monologue for Asif in his final year showcase. 

At the time, Gaza had just been bombed, and that dominated the news. I ended up writing this humorous monologue about a Palestinian actor who meets this beautiful English woman after a performance of “Hamlet” in Ramallah; and he’s just trying to find a place to have sex with her. 

He doesn’t know where to go. He can’t pick his house because he lives with a large family. He can’t go to where she’s staying, either, because she’s living with some nuns. When he finally finds a place, a lot of bad stuff happens to them. 

After writing this comic monologue for Asif, I guess it sort of stayed with him. After he graduated, he approached me about turning it into a show, but I wanted to stay true to the story’s short form to maintain the intensity of the monologue. We then put together other monologues, and slowly, “Love, Bombs, & Apples” began to take shape. 

How related are new monologues to the original story that brought you and Asif together?

I guess the binding theme between all of them is that they’re all related to the Middle East. The second monologue of the piece, for example, is about this Pakistani guy who has a huge ambition to write the definitive post 9/11 novel. 

He spends eight years of his life writing this huge, mammoth work that he sends to a lot of publishers. In the end, he’s arrested out of suspicion that he’s a terrorist, as the novel has a very detailed and dry account of how to carry out a terror attack in London. 

It’s another humorous bit of work that also touches on the real themes of how people could be held captive due to a mere fear of terror affiliation. The irony of the piece is that the Pakistani guy doesn’t even want to leave the prison, because in it, he gets a lot of peace and quiet for him to think about rewriting the novel. The story pokes fun at the war on terror in general. 

Is the stereotyping of people from an Islamic background one of the main themes of the monologues?

Yes. I guess my motivation as always was to challenge the stereotypes of Muslims. For example, when you see a Muslim on television, chances are he’ll be praying or doing any sort of religious behavior. 

He could be involved in terrorism somehow, or abusing the women in his life. I wanted to take these notions and channel them through people who often times have these ridiculous aspirations or inclinations, but end up getting caught in the larger political events around them.

You have a PHD in molecular biology; what led you to jump headfirst into the world of theatre?

I was very lucky because, when I was growing up, I had an uncle who loves theatre and took me to a lot of performances. I didn’t know I could write theatre since I didn’t study it formally or anything. But after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I wanted to write a short story about the war. Then, I changed my mind and began writing a play instead. I was very lucky. A theatre director decided to take it on, and it ended up being a big hit. 

It really all came about accidentally. I wrote my first play after finishing my experiments at the lab. I enjoyed the writing and working with the actors and director. I guess I got hooked. 

What would you say is the biggest difference between writing short stories and writing theatre?

It’s not as big of a difference as one might imagine. If you think about it, theatre is almost like writing a novella. An average play is around 90-120 pages, so theatre is really a short form of writing. That’s not very different from writing a short story. There are some differences, of course- in theater, for instance, everything more or less has to be carried out in the form of conversation- but on the whole, the similarities are more aplenty. I would say that a theatre play is somewhat of an illustrated short story.  

What’s your favorite thing about the entire writing process?

It’s a lot of sweat and difficulty until you finish the first draft. There’s almost that feeling like you might not even get there. What I love and enjoy the most is the editing afterwards. Once you have a first draft, many possibilities of how you could improve the story even further suggest themselves. You begin to see patterns and to make connections between themes inside of the story. 

With “Love, Bombs, & Apples”, Asif, the director Rosamunde Hutt, and I spent a lot of time discovering other possibilities for comedy and for making the stories richer after I had written the first draft of the monologues. Theatre is such collaborative work; various fascinating possibilities emerge from these types of discussions. 

By the time the final product is ready, it would’ve changed form on multiple occasions. It feels like you’re a child again, and you’re sitting with this group of people who are all willing to play along and help you to make your game better. 

What do you think the audience will experience in “Love, Bombs, & Apples”?

It will entertain. It will make them laugh. It will scandalize them. It will allow them to view the issues that they read about in the newspaper in a different way, making them change their perspectives on the Middle East. 

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