Theatre company Graeae’s latest production 10 Nights – co-produced with Tamasha – is accessible in more ways than one. As is the norm for the organisation, which champions Deaf and disabled talent, the staging of Shahid Iqbal Khan’s play comes with audio description, integrated captions and British Sign Language (BSL), and is performed in a relaxed environment. Where it goes further though, is in its subject matter: an exploration of grief, of identity, and of one man’s faith – all three of which are transcendental, universal and relatable to every person watching.
And so it is to Iqbal Khan’s credit that jokes about a young man’s struggles with his Muslim faith can be understood by a diverse audience, not least because humour is the easiest way for the man, named Yasser (Zaqi Ismail), to process such a conflict. Fast-paced wit, playfully delivered by Ismail, is a necessity for our protagonist when any slowing of the pace risks making room for reflection – and he certainly doesn’t want to do that.
Yet when he decides to partake in itikaf – the ritual of sleeping, fasting, praying in a mosque for the final ten nights of Ramadan – an abundance of time to himself leads to him facing questions and memories about his late friend Aftab (Safyan Iqbal) which he’d rather not confront. Unfortunately for him, he’s encouraged by fellow, overbearing worshippers, all impersonated at speed with a smug grin from Yasser and Aftab’s lover Ameela (Sumayya Si-Tayeb), who interprets most of what Ismail says in the production.
Yet for a play with accessibility at its heart, the inclusivity is not always perfect. There are some clever interactions between Ismail and the access provision (Ameela covering her eyes and ears as Yasser relieves himself in the toilet, and a giant doughnut projected on the captions screen being two highlights), but lines aren’t said verbatim, some are skipped altogether. Granted, that obviously cannot be helped by Ismail, but it creates a different experience for those using the captions projected on the screen behind him, or the integrated BSL interpreter. A different experience between groups of audience members which, tragically, isn’t access by definition.
It would have been great to have seen more of this chemistry between Yasser and Ameela, not least because his relationship with her is another thing which the young Muslim must confront. Among the many realisations at the end of the piece, we do not see the one about Ameela carried out, and the fact that the interpreter plays this role isn’t immediately apparent, either. When all the other characters are male, it would have been interesting to have heard more from the only female Muslim in the piece, dismantling the masculine mindset which Yasser partly feels contributed to his friend’s demise.
Staged in the Bush’s smaller Studio space, there is, understandably, some limitations on movement and set design (Khadija Raza has constructed an impressive interior of a mosque on a small rectangular space), though perhaps that’s the intention behind a production which feels intimate in its topic. A small space to discuss big ideas is a beautiful juxtaposition, and the theme of isolation all too familiar given the past year and a half. 10 Nights’ introspection speaks to us all, the result is a play which is endearing, engaging and affecting.
10 Nights is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 13 November.
All performances – except specific dates between 20 and 27 October – are audio described, feature integrated, creative captions and British Sign Language (BSL), and are performed in a relaxed environment.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘10 Nights’ for free as a member of the press in exchange for a review of the performance. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated are honest and my own.
Production Images: Ali Wright.