The North Wall: Iqbal Khan

The theatre director, Iqbal Khan, has been working with The North Wall on a piece of new writing by a recent Oxford graduate, Nathan Ellis. Iqbal is an extraordinary artist who has recently directed Othello at the RSC and Macbeth at The Globe. His next project is Anthony and Cleopatra at the RSC as part of their Roman plays series. With Iqbal’s clear love of classical text, it was a rather wonderful thing to discover his commitment to new writing and to helping emerging artists. We met when he toured a production of a new play — Snookered — to The North Wall a few years ago. He loved the building and particularly the theatre. From a first conversation, he seemed like just the kind of artist the North Wall looks for — interested in young writers, actors and directors, generous with his time, democratic in his process and working at the top of his game.

So…when we decided to expand our ArtsLab new writing work to include a week-long rehearsal on a new script during September, Iqbal was the perfect person to ask to lead and mentor the project. We put a call-out to the young writers that we have worked with over the past three years and asked them to send a finished script of a play that had not been performed. From a number of submissions, we selected a short list of four. Iqbal made the final choice and we assembled a cast of six actors also drawn from our ArtsLab ‘stable’.

The play he chose was The Disintegration Loops by Nathan Ellis. It is an ambitious and explosive piece of writing that has a dynamic, complicated and intelligent female character at its centre — a girl called Iphigenia or Iff for short.

Iqbal worked on the play in London for five days — helping the actors to get to grips with the business of an entirely new script, working with two young assistant directors, a sound designer and the writer. The project was an exploration of the work as well as an education for the participants in how to approach a new text. The cast and crew then moved in to the theatre here in Oxford on Friday and opened rehearsals up to the Drama pupils lucky enough to have classes on that day. It was great for me to be able to go straight from observing the rehearsal to a GCSE Drama class and talk to them about what they had seen. They had some very interesting questions!

The piece was performed as a ‘staged reading’ on Friday and Saturday night. We hope to go on and develop the play further with Iqbal. Opportunities like this for young writers and actors are very rare. In theatre, you can only really learn by doing and The North Wall remains committed to giving emerging artists from all backgrounds the opportunities to do this. They are, after all, the future of our culture.

Lucy Maycock

Artistic Director, The North Wall

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