“A heart at war in the peace capital of the world. Adham is a silent and brooding middle-aged tragedy, standing outside a Mosque in North London. Waiting. It’s raining. Tea, an umbrella, and friendship arrive. Two years later Adham’s boss invites him on holiday to “set him up” with a potential love interest. Adham is panic-stricken and so in a bid to desperately bat away his admirer’s advances, he fabricates a husband. But the plan backfires and suddenly Adham needs to produce evidence of his mythical beau. And that means he must convince someone to act the part… Who best but his Imam and absolutely platonic friend Raushan? The rest is what you’d expect: a call to adventure in the Alps, a meet-cute over antique books & Parisian coffee, a quarrel and a sweet love with gardening gloves.”
[The Cobbled Streets of Geneva] is the debut play from non-binary British East Asian writer and theatre maker Nemo Martin. Award winning theatre company Ellandar Productions unites with long term collaborators 45North to champion this warm queer romantic comedy about how role-playing new lives might bring us closer to who we really are.
[The Cobbled Streets of Geneva] will perform at the Cage Venue at VAULT festival from Tuesday 11th Feb to Sunday 16th Feb.
Nemo Martin is a non-binary British East Asian writer and theatre-maker with an MA in Dramatic Writing from Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London. Regularly writing on LGBTQI+ representation in theatre as well as multiple-marginalisation and intersectionality, we talk to Nemo ahead of them presenting their newest play [The Cobbled Streets of Geneva] at VAULT festival.
Hi Nemo, can you tell us a bit about what [The Cobbled Streets of Geneva] is about?
[The Cobbled Streets of Geneva] is about two middle-aged British-Asian Muslim men falling in love while on holiday together in Switzerland. It’s a romantic comedy about how role-playing new lives might bring us closer to who we really are.
Where did the inspiration for the title come from?
It’s a line from the play and is a literal description of where they are: the square brackets are a stylistic representation of how a character in the play captures his holiday to be inclusive for a visually impaired person in his family who uses screen readers, which require photographs posted on social media to be captioned with a description.
And what inspired you to write this this particular story?
It was a combination of several thoughts I’d been having over a year that climaxed while on holiday. I got tired of being told that as an ace, trans, British East Asian, I could only write about my own traumas and experiences. I wanted to write a genre-heavy play full of cheesy tropes about a demographic I’m not because I felt like that’s not what’s expected of me, that my use as a writer has only ever been to educate cis white people about ‘people like me’.
I had been talking to several friends both in the UK and internationally about how they were creating spaces for themselves where Islam and queerness could be debated and celebrated away from the vitriol that surrounds them: conversations hosted by (amongst others) the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, Hidayah LGBT+ and Imaan LGBTQ. I wanted to share that idea of found family and community building for people who maybe haven’t found that place for themselves yet.
Essentially, I wanted to see aspirational older queer characters who were interracial but not white, who had flaws but who were not evil stereotypes, who did not find the world easy but who earned a happily ever after.
Can you talk about any challenges you found in penning an LGBT play that also focusses heavily on religion? We’d imagine that the story presented many opportunities to discuss issues that aren’t always addressed.
I’m not Muslim, nor do I come from a family of any particular faith. One thing I knew I had to do while writing the play was to talk to queer Muslim people, to pay them to consult on the work, and to make sure I wasn’t writing anything hurtful. The last thing needed in the world right now is another person causing more pain through ignorance and laziness.
Most of the questions I’ve had about writing this play have been from non-Muslims who ask about whether I think “Muslim audiences” might kick up a fuss if they found out about the subject matter. While I have had this conversation with my actors and my creative team and I’m very lucky to have queers with an Islamic background working on the show (who have been incredibly open about their own challenges with the text and their personal history), I find I’ve been challenged mostly by the Islamophobia and anti-Asian racism people have exhibited within the queer community. It makes me very angry that people who often think of themselves as liberal because of their queerness exempt themselves from being critical of their racism, and I think this isn’t an issue that is spotlighted as much as it should be.
That being said, I like to think that we’ve had far more warmth and support than hatred through the process so far, and I hope that many more writers can find the space to write not just about current (often traumatic) issues, but to resolve them with aggressively happy endings.
What messages do you hope audiences will take away from the story?
I spend most of my time being incredibly angry about the state of the world. What I want an audience to take away from my show is any modicum of hope that the world can be better. I don’t particularly care about teaching cis white people to be more open or less Islamophobic, but I want people like me to feel like we can achieve and do deserve happiness, a feeling of contentedness, and for our boundaries to be respected.
I want queers of colour, especially those of faith, to find space to take a breath, and to feel not just welcome but encouraged to have fun. It’s a story about middle-aged Muslim gaysians falling in love and it ends happily! The world is on fire, but we lose when we allow them to kill the last of our joy.
Show: The Cobbled Streets of Geneva
Venue: The Cage, VAULT Festival 2020
Dates: 11th – 16th Feb 2020
Timings: Tuesday – Sunday, 18:10, Saturday Matinee, 15:10
Run time: Approx. 60 mins
Ashley Alymann – Adham
Ashley’s most recent work was with Ellandar Productions on ONLY HUMAN: a micro-festival of new writing. Other credits include playing Sebastian in Belfast company Terra Nova’s THE TEMPEST (2016); YEH SHEN TOUR for Yellow Earth Theatre (2015); the King in ARABIAN NIGHTS at the Sherman Cymru (2014); and Ali in HALF N HALF – THE CURRY MUSICAL for Tinderbox Alley (2015). Ashley also works regularly as a voice-over artist.
Shiraz Khan – Raushan
Shiraz is a UK based actor who studied a MA at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Shiraz recently finished work on the forthcoming ITV drama Honour (2020). Shiraz is also known for his work in the Channel 4 drama Secret State (2012). Shiraz’s films The Hunting of the Snark (2015) and The Forbidden Note (2015) were both premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. Shiraz has worked as leads in the independent features I am Cursed (2014) and Project Evolution (2018). Shiraz has worked with top Bollywood Actors in a series of TV adverts. Shiraz also enjoys writing and film making. Shiraz speaks Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Kashmiri languages.
Nemo Martin – playwright
Nemo Martin is a non-binary British East Asian writer and theatre-maker with an MA in Dramatic Writing from Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London. They regularly write on LGBTQI+ representation and intersectionality. They are a PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, specialising on positive representations of race and transgender identity. Their play Pitch & Cologne was shortlisted for BBC Writers Room, American Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries, and The Pleasance Charlie Hartill Prize. Previous work includes: Hold Me In Thine Eyes (Omnibus Theatre); Aro Thru The (Hackney Showrooms for Outrageous! Festival). [The Cobbled Streets of Geneva] was long listed for BBC Writers Room 2019.
Jo Tyabji – director
Jo Tyabji is Co-founder of ivo theatre and Associate Director at Milk Presents. Recent work includes MY NAME IS MY OWN at the Southbank Centre, MOTHERLAND, currently touring, and WHAT’S FAR IS NEAR, simultaneous live stream performance between London’s Purcell Room and Beirut’s Palace Theatre, Hamra. Jo directs new writing and devised work, as well as creating drag and experimental performance. In 2020 Jo and fellow drag artist Raz Weiner will curate an ongoing exploration into race, religion and ethnicity in the sites India/Pakistan, Palestine/Israel and Britain, working with queer artists at the top of their game in a Queervention on Islamophobia and Antisemitism.
ABOUT Ellandar Productions
Ellandar Productions co-founded by Elliott Cook & Iskandar R. Sharazuddin is a narrative focused multidisciplinary company that produces new theatre and film which strives to be diverse and inclusive in form and content. Founded in Western Australia in 2010, Ellandar permanently relocated to London in 2017. Previous & upcoming work includes: Finding Melania by Denise Stephenson (Camden People’s Theatre); ONLY HUMAN: a micro-festival of new writing by Rogue Playwrights (White Bear Theatre); Tiger Mum by Eva Edo (Soho Theatre & VAULT Festival 2020); [The Cobbled Streets of Geneva] by Nemo Martin (Applecart Arts & VAULT Festival 2020); Post-Mortem by Iskandar R. Sharazuddin (Assembly Festival, Edinburgh Fringe 2019); Silently Hoping by Iskandar R. Sharazuddin (VAULT Festival 2019); Multiverse Theory in D by Jessica Messenger (The Blue Room Theatre); and Concussion by Ross Mueller (The Blue Room
45North, founded in 2018 by award-winning director Jessica Rose McVay, is a new London-based company which produces theatrical events and new writing prioritising female-led work, unheard voices, and multidisciplinary forms. Previous & upcoming work includes: Meat by Gill Greer (Theatre 503); Post-Mortem by Iskandar R. Sharazuddin (Assembly Festival, Edinburgh Fringe 2019); and Leave a Message by Ed Coleman & James Mitchell (Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe 2019).