Clanger contributor, Priya Gill chatted to Playwright and Actress Ambreen Razia, about her one woman show Diary of a Hounslow Girl, which comes to The Place Theatre next Tuesday.
How did you get your start in acting?
I went to the University of West London which isn’t. When I came out of University, I was expecting a plethora of roles to fall on my lap – which didn’t happen (she laughs.) I ended up falling into facilitating and working with young people because I had to make money. So I started working with young people; girls in gangs and that’s where I started. Then I’ve done a lot of community and forum theatre.
From there I decided to write a play; having worked with young people for so long I wanted to write a play where the young person was at the forefront of the story – which is where Hounslow Girl came from.
So you didn’t want to conform to roles that were out there, you wanted to create something yourself?
I think as well I wasn’t seeing any the roles anyway because people didn’t know who I was. So, even if there roles out there, they weren’t in my view because I don’t think I was established enough in the industry…I just decided yeah, I’m going to write this show!
What inspired Shaheeda’s feisty, streetwise character in Hounslow Girl?
That was based on some of the girls I worked with, but really based on some of the girls I went to school with. Even though I wasn’t getting the roles, I was seeing the roles out there. I was seeing the representation on TV and on stage – it was like every kind of representation I started to see of young British Muslim girls either they’re on the cusp of being honour killed or they were just very passive in some way and oppressed. The girls I went to school with were far from that – they were really well integrated and loud and confident. Forward thinking – yeah – really wanting to explore and experiment.
How does it feel to bringing the show on the road – especially a character that perhaps people haven’t seen on stage before?
We’ve toured it around a substantial number of venues around the country . I think it’s great – this show does need to be toured because there’s certain places that you go, certain rural places that I saw, seaside towns, where it feels like a bit more of an education rather than a performance because the audience are like who is this girl in a hijab is really loud and urban, integrated. So they’re like Woah – it’s an energy that comes off stage with it.
Then you go to places like Birmingham and there’s ten Hounslow Girl’s in the front row. All of sudden you get to have fun and play with jokes like Rizla, smoke a spliff or drink and all those kind of things and they’re like Oh I get that, I know what that is. It’s very different depending on what venue you go to and what area it is.
What can audiences expect from Hounslow Girl?
Just expect to see a young 16 year-old girl and the turmoil she’s going through for 85 minutes and she’ll provide you with loads of laughs, maybe some tears and also it’ll just take you back to being at school and being young. You don’t have to be from a Muslim background. Especially women – everyone’s a daughter or a mother – you can expect some really heartbreaking moments and moments of complete laughter. I really do think it’ll take you back to being at school and being young and being stuck in that situation she’s in.
From your perspective, how important is it that diverse stories like Hounslow Girl are told and reflected through the theatre and the arts?
I think it’s crucial that every voice is represented and represented well. So I think we have to do our research and delve into different communities and see what voices are missing from our stages and on our screens. There’s a lot of shows about young British Muslim girls which are very issue heavy. Whether it be about an honour killing or arranged marriages or violence against women and actually there are just normal girls trying to grow up – there’s enough conflict and drama in that – put that on stage and on screen. I feel like the industry needs to trust that a bit more.
What life advice would a Hounslow Girl give to other girls?
It’s OK to make mistakes. I would say that to any young girl who comes to see the show. I have said it to young girls, don’t be afraid to make mistakes or if you feel you’re getting certain feelings that aren’t necessarily supported at home or you’re being told that it’s wrong. Don’t ever feel guilty for feeling that at 16 like you’re hormones are exactly the same as every other young woman. That goes for any girl that comes from a traditional background or anyone that’s told there’s a certain way you have to be. There’s no way to be, you are who you are and it’s OK to make mistakes as long as you hopefully learn from them. Don’t be afraid to find yourself and be yourself.
What’s next for you?
My second play POT is on at the Ovalhouse in London at the end of the month. It’s about girls in gangs and children in care. A young female character is at the forefront of the story, whose part of a gang, it’s tackling that issue.
Diary of A Hounslow Girl, The Place Theatre, 7pm, Tuesday 14th March. Find out more and book here.