An Interview with Writer, Kamal Kaan

An Interview with Writer, Kamal Khan

Bradford writer Kamal Kaan’s new play Aaliyah: After Antigone will premiere simultaneously as a live and digital online experience at Impact Hub Bradford from 8-16 October. This contemporary adaptation of Sophocles’ Greek tale examines the fragile nature of citizenship and makes us question or own relationship to ourselves and our country. Set in Bradford, it follows the plight of two British Bangladeshi sister as they try and save their brother who is facing deportation.

The project was commissioned as a live/digital hybrid pre-covid in 2019 as Freedom Studios and CARBON: Imagineering explored ‘storycasting’ and live digital art. How much did that influence the writing of Aaliyah: After Antigone?
This project was always intended to be a hybrid show and was commissioned pre-Covid in 2019 and with the limitations and social distance of Covid, it gave rise to the popularisation of digital work. The show was specifically created to be a hybrid experience as this would allow a wider audience and access to live theatre on a more national and global platform. I like to make work that doesn’t allow building to be a barrier in terms of travel and access and hybrid work offers a generous way to invite a wider demographic.

Why a contemporary version of a Greek tragedy? Do you have a special interest in Greek tragedy? What has it been like working with director Alex Chisholm?
I have always loved the story on Antigone and studied it for A-Level, years before I knew I was ever going to be a writer. It was the first Greek tragedy I had read and loved and it was an honour to have been asked by Freedom Studios to write my own contemporary version. The story still remains relevant for a modern audience; as the themes of family, love, justice, faith are timeless and universal themes. It was wonderful collaborating with Alex Chisholm, Director and Dramaturg for the play. Alex is of Greek heritage and her knowledge and passion for Greek literature is inspiring. The production then became a celebration of our cultures to create a contemporary Bengali-Hellenistic hybrid drama and it has been such a nurturing and joyous journey working with Alex – she also bakes the best cakes!

An Interview with Writer, Kamal Khan antigone

The cast of Aaliyah: After Antigone, Lydia Hasoon, Halema Hussain and Jag Sanghera

“Detailed insight”

Aaliyah: After Antigone has been made so that the in person and remote experiences are “different but equal”. What sets this production apart from the live streaming of theatre shows that has ‘boomed’ during lockdown?
What sets Aaliyah: After Antigone apart from streaming theatre is that it is not a pre-record. It is designed and will be produced more like a live television drama – with a five camera set up and what the audience watch on the live stream, is fed though a software and an editor that will decide what’s the best shot for the audience to see from each camera. It’s very exciting as theatre is rarely produced like this. But to capture that exciting live element of theatre, by doing a broadcast like this feels like the most honest way to give two types of audiences a similar theatrical experience.

You were story consultant on Clio Bernard’s Ali + Ava which was selected for the Cannes Film Festival this year – what did your role entail and did you get to go to Cannes?
As well as making my own work as a writer, I also work as a dramaturg and Script Consultant. It was a dream come true to work with the most wonderful writer/director Clio Barnard (The Arbor, The Selfish Giant) I spent 3 years working with her on Ali + Ava: a love story set and filmed in Bradford. The process involved giving feedback on treatments, scripts, locations, character research, production and post production. Working so closely with Clio gave me a detailed insight into the film making process. Myself and Clio were heartbroken not being able to go to Cannes for the red carpet premiere due to travel restrictions and other commitments. However, I was invited to be with Clio for a virtual link up with Cannes for the screening! So yes, we were there in spirit. However, we will get to be there for the snazzy London premiere – on at the same week as the production of Aaliyah: After Antigone! How wonderful to have the launch of two projects simultaneously!

An Interview with Writer, Kamal Khan aaliyah

“My father worked in the mills”

What’s next for you after Aaliyah: After Antigone? Any particular ambitions?
I am currently about to shoot my own BFI funded Short Film that I have written and being directed by the wonderful Bradford based television director Dominic Leclerc. The ambition with this, is to then turn the short film into a feature. I have also co-written my next BBC Radio 4 Afternoon drama with the joyful Leeds based writer Mary Cooper, due to be broadcast by the end of this year. I am also working on a BBC TV series called The Secret Lives of The Amir Sisters ( adapted by the books form Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain). I have also pitched several ideas for my own BBC television drama. I also hope to collaborate with Clio Barnard again!

You’re Bradford based – what are the advantages (and disadvantages!) of living there, both personal and career-wise. Any thoughts on moving?
I am Bradford born and bred from a large British-Bangladeshi working class background. My father worked in the mills and was very proud to be a Bradfordian. Having lived away for several years whilst I undertook my undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge and my Masters in Glasgow, I returned back home to Bradford due to personal reasons. I strongly objected against having to move to London to make it in the arts. I found, once I rooted myself back in my own city, my work began to flourish and I’m constantly and infinitely inspired by the people and landscape that envelope me. Bradford has the space to breathe and allows the mind to dwell and I have found that is crucial for the creative process.

‘Aaliyah: After Antigone’ premieres as a simultaneous live and digital online performance from 8-16 October at 7.30pm (BSL interpreted matinee 2pm on 16 Oct)

images: Tim Smith


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