Tag Archives: ishy din

“Approaching Empty is relevant because it’s about us, it’s about what our families went through and what impact this had on the younger generations.”


Nicholas Prasad as Sully, Rina Fatania as Sameena and Kammy Darweish as Mansha in Approaching Empty. Photo by Helen Murray.

Talking about Thatcher in the North East is like saying Lord Voldemort’s name at Hogwarts… or it is in my grandad’s company. His family were all miners and he saw first-hand how she starved a community into submission, left men without purpose and flattened economies here in the North East. I knew instantly when I read Approaching Empty that I had to be part of the production; listening to Mansha – his politics, his dreams, his distain of Thatcher is like hearing my grandad talk. The great thing about Ishy’s writing, however, is that he isn’t one sided – this is not a play of pure Thatcher bashing. Mansha may echo a lot of peoples feelings of her, but Raf, his counterpart and boss, argues Thatcher was a great visionary who saw the mines for what they were – unprofitable and from the past, and he, like many others, flourished in Thatcher’s capitalist economy.

Approaching Empty puts a spotlight on the the steelworks in Middlesbrough – many North Easterners will have memories of Redcar Steelworks. In fact, only last year I was part of a film, Blood Steel, directed by Tim Goodill, which focussed on the impact and effect closing the steelworks had on Redcar’s community. (Unemployment in 2017 jumped by 16.2% after the steelworks had been closed, making Redcar one of the poorest constituencies in the UK). It’s a community that has been abused by big companies and ignored by the government, leaving it with a broken economy.

Ishy writes about a North Eastern working class community that struggled after Thatcher’s Britain, and gives their stories a platform on a national stage without it being a caricature. The truth in his writing and his voice is because Ishy is one of us – he’s writing about his North East not as an outsider looking in – and you can see that in the play. Too often we get a “wey aye man” as some stereotypical menial comedy role in a show, but Ishy writes nuanced and beautiful characters who are heartbreaking and real. And as Ishy says, the comedy within Approaching Empty comes from playing the truth of the situation, not from playing it for laughs.

Approaching Empty is relevant because it’s about us, it’s about what our families went through and what impact this had on the younger generations. Did our families succeed or were they broken by Thatcher’s politics? What is it like to be the new generation in those families? Can we still chase our dreams or are we hindered by the fears of what our parents and grandparents went through? This is even more prevalent with those, who like me, are in the arts. When I first said to my grandad I wanted to be an actor/director you’d have thought I’d said I’d like to be a mermaid. It talks of multiple generations and their political/ethical outlooks. As an audience we start to look at our own lives and ask ourselves what would we have done differently if our family and livelihoods were at stake? Are we any different from the supposed “bad guys”?. It’s as important a play now as it would have been in 2013, because we’re a country who is heavily divided by politics and scared of economic collapse but we can make good choices for the future.

In Approaching Empty we join Mansha and Raf on the 8th April 2013, the day Thatcher died, in Raf’s taxi office where business is failing. We voyeuristically watch as Mansha, Raf and their families slowly fall apart through their choices and consequences, when good men make cut throat decisions which don’t always play out the way they had hoped.

Catch Approaching Empty at Live Theatre, Newcastle now until 23rd February, before it heads off on a national tour. All dates and booking information.


Maanuv Thiara as Tany in Approaching Empty. Photo by Helen Murray.

By guest editor, Heather Carroll – Approaching Empty Assistant Director and proud North Easterner ❤️

The origins and legacy of REFUEL – A Tamasha Schools’ Playwriting Project by Iman Qureshi

Lyrical MC - Tamasha and Rewrite

Image taken from Lyrical MC – photo by Robert Workman

In the weeks following a number of terrorist attacks carried out crudely in the name of Islam, Fin Kennedy, artistic director at Tamasha Theatre, offered the Muslim writers on the Tamasha Playwrights group a space to come together and talk about being a Muslim writer in such a fraught political context.

So one cold January morning myself and three other Muslim playwrights met at Tamasha’s offices in Bethnal Green, and over cupcakes and coffee discussed how it felt to grapple with such issues in our work.

I felt stifled as a writer. If I were to write something, I felt I had a responsibility to answer for such horrors carried out in the name of my religion. But the problem was, I was as in the dark as anyone else about the drivers of such violence. My Islam was not the Islam of Salah Abdeslam, Khurram Butt, or Yahyah Farroukh.

I wanted to write other stories. Stories about Muslims that did not deal with so-called ‘Islamic extremism’ or terrorism, but rather about Muslims whose dating lives are disasters, who hate their jobs, who love trips to ikea, and like feeding stray cats. You know, regular human beings who are fully rounded, three dimensional characters.

And I wasn’t alone in feeling this. There was a general frustration amongst us Muslim writers about how we were constantly represented as Muslims. We only ever seemed to see certain types of Muslims beamed out at us from our screens, stages and news pages. And these ‘types’ rarely corresponded with the Muslims we knew personally – our friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances.

And so, Tamasha theatre decided to make a difference, by supporting us as writers to explore other aspects of Muslim identity in our work. And so, Refuel was born.

Refuel - A Tamasha Schools Project

Rehearsals for Refuel

Designed to support Tamasha’s forthcoming touring production Approaching Empty by Ishy Din, Refuel  paired four Muslim writers with an experienced director each and sent us into four Muslim majority schools across London to develop and write four fresh plays to accompany the main piece. The premise was simple – it must be set in a minicab office. Beyond that, sky was the limit.

Through a series of drama exercises, improvisation, character work, hot seating, real world interviews and discussions, and short writing tasks, I worked with the year 8 girls of Mulberry Girls School in Tower Hamlets to develop some concrete ideas for a play.

Each week we built on top of what we had created together the previous week. The characters we created in the first week, we had to place in a minicab office the second week with some dramatic interactions with other characters. The third week saw those dramatic scenes escalate into a more complex plot. Slowly, the forces of the play came together.

What was most thrilling for me as a writer was seeing the 11 year old girls go from wanting to write stories about Harry and Joe and Chloe and Kate, to becoming excited about writing stories about Khadija or Haleema. This switch from simply recreating the white majority they see on their TV screens at home, to actually representing their own lives and cultures and experiences in their ideas was really satisfying and I hope one of the lasting legacies of a project like this.

And this was where the real magic was – they’re humour, their sass, their depth really shone brightest when they began to mine their own experiences, or the banter they have with their own friends and family.

Our play gradually developed into an intergenerational story about three girls and their grandmother. It’s a story of aging, of not quite getting on with older generations, and of cultural gulfs that must be bridged within families which have migrants from different generations. It’s a story that is at once universal, but also intrinsically rooted in the Bengali culture. Everyone can relate to not giving their grandparents enough time, but yet not everyone’s grandmother is called Nani, eats brain cutlets, or tells stories of her village in Bangladesh.

The project has helped me as an emerging writer in many ways. Firstly, the opportunity to work with a brilliant and experienced director, Endy McKay in the classroom has taught me a huge amount about generating stories and ideas through performance. It’s also equipped me with a repertoire of ridiculously fun drama games which I hope I’ll have the opportunity to use soon.  Moreover, the support I had from Fin and Tamasha was completely invaluable and has meant that I’m now confidence enough and equipped with the skills to work on projects like this again. The production credit will hopefully put me in a good position to receive another similar commission in future.

But finally, working with young people in a collaborative and creative way is extremely liberating, because their imaginations are boundless. It was a pleasure to be let into their world for six short weeks, to hear their ideas, their jokes and their lingo. I think I learnt more from them than they ever could have from me, and based on our time together, I’ve got several stories percolating in the back of my mind. Perhaps they’ll pour out in the next play I write.

Find out more and book to see all Refuel performances here.

Snookered Q&A with writer Ishy Din

Photo of Ishy Din, writer of 'Snookered'

Ishy Din, writer of 'Snookered'. Photo by Keith Pattison

What inspired Snookered? Is it autobiographical at all?

There are certainly parts of it that are autobiographical, I think that to make any character honest and real one needs to put ones own experiences, both emotional and physical, into them but then you also have to make the piece dramatic so once the characters were in place I had to find a journey for each character that would heighten the drama. Continue reading

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