Playwright Aamina Ahmad discusses her new play, The Dishonoured
Set in a murky world of espionage, moral turpitude and political intrigue The Dishonoured is the new production by London based Kali Theatre. When Colonel Tariq, a newly recruited intelligence officer in Pakinstan’s notorious secret service discovers that an American CIA agent has killed a prostitute in Lahore’s red light district, a diplomatic crisis ensues. As the two nations negotiate, angry mobs gather and political tension mounts. Tariq must face life-changing decisions that have far reaching consequences for the future of his family and his country. Writer Aamina Ahmad tells us more…
What inspired you to write The Dishonoured?
I was interested in exploring the idea of whether it is possible to live a really honourable life when many of us feel profoundly obligated to be true to our own ambitions and personal desires. On top of that, most of those ambitions are tied to the various institutions which we serve, and their agendas and codes may not align with our own. Exploring those questions within the context of the war on terror, which has impacted Pakistan with horrific outcomes for many, also gave me the chance to look at what this question could mean in both a personal and political sense.
How would you describe the play?
It’s a political thriller which takes some of its cues from espionage stories.
What are the main characters like?
Tariq is an ambitious and reckless man of action whose choices drive the story. Farah is an artist who finds herself caught between personal ambition and duty. Chaudhry seems full of bluster but understands the political games he's playing only too well. Lowe is a CIA agent whose time in the field has turned him into a pragmatist.
Image: Mark Andreani
How did Kali help you develop your play towards a full production?
Although the core of what I wanted to say in the story never changed, I really had to find my way towards the best way of telling the story over a long period of time. And then over the last year I decided I had to start over from the beginning. Janet Steel’s patience and commitment to the project through a very long drawn out development process was key as was her kind treatment of each draft. She got what I was trying to say even when it wasn't working. Also, I wasn't sure what I would get from the Talkback rehearsed reading but watching an audience watch your work is very instructive.
What’s the most exciting thing about having your play performed around the UK?
It will be better travelled than me! You write in such isolation, the play seems to only exist in your imagination, so the idea of it being a living entity with real people performing it, and real people in real communities watching it feels both extraordinary and surreal. That lonely process feels like it was worth it for this moment.
Any thoughts about the Arcola Theatre, where the play is showing in London?
I first visited The Arcola when it was located in the textile factory on Arcola Street in Dalston. I loved the gutsiness of the way the work and space interacted. It was just kind of badass! Then the first public reading of my play took place in the new building (its current location) - while it was still under construction, so it was in another phase. Now, of course, the space is finished. But for all that sense of becoming 'official', they seem to have had no trouble maintaining that initial gutsiness which made the theatre feel so different from the spaces I knew - they still welcome new writers, work produced on the margins and political writing.
How did you start working with Kali?
A few years ago I entered my first play for Kali’s Talkback writer programme. This play had got me onto a writer course at the Royal Court. With Kali I got the support of a dramaturg. Despite that, I didn't really know how to make it work and in the end, it was not selected for Kali’s Talkback public readings. So I wrote a new play which I submitted to another Talkback some years later. This time it was selected for a reading. Of course, I have a long standing interest in Kali because my mum was one of its founders more than twenty years ago.
What did you do at the BBC?
I was a script editor at the BBC and later at a number of other companies. I was lucky enough to work with many really brilliant television writers and producers, and I feel I learned a great deal about storytelling from them. I watch much less television now than I did, but its influence is everywhere in my work.
Are you now a full time playwright?
I am writing full time but my concentration, at the moment, is in prose. I have been lucky enough to receive a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University in California which is making it possible for me to complete a novel and a story collection.
What’s next for Aamina Ahmad?
I'm developing another theatre piece about an ex-dictator living in London, who faces, among other things, rising London property prices. It’s another political play but hopefully a little lighter in places.
Kali Theatre Company presents The Dishonoured, a new play by Aamina Ahmad is showing at the following theatres in the UK:
March 10th-12th, Leicester Curve Theatre
March 15th to April 2nd, Arcola Theatre, London
April 12th-16th, Plymouth Theatre Royal
April 21st-23rd, Birmingham Mac
May 4th-7th, Coventry Belgrade