If you cast you mind back through the celebrity scandals and moral panics that have graced the newspaper headlines throughout the past few years, you may remember a story that grabbed public attention during 2006. At first it was the story of a young girl disappearing from her Scottish home, then it was the story of her kidnap by her Pakistani father. Then, in a sudden twist in the tale, it came to light that the girl in question may have left of her own accord, changing her name and choosing life with her father in Pakistan over her mother in the West.

The story of Gaby and her choice to so distinctly change her cultural identity – choosing the name ‘Ghazala’ as she did so – was discussed and documented so much by the headlines and columnists of the time, that it might seems a strange thing to choose to tell again, in another form, all these years later. But playwright Sudha Bhuchar has decided to take on the challenge of Gaby and her family’s story, recreating it through theatre in order to go behind the sensationalist front pages of the past and tell this story of family, love and the fight to find one’s own identity –straight from the mouths of those who lived it. The play in question is called My Name Is… and it uses verbatim theatre – quoting its words exactly from real people – which Bhuchar collected through many interviews over the years of planning and researching.

“I went to Pakistan to talk to the father and daughter,” she tells me, revealing the incredible amount of dedicated research that went into the play. She hadn’t originally planned to write a verbatim piece, but after speaking with the family and hearing the story told by them, as they remembered it she decided that verbatim was the only way she could really gdoive justice to the real story. “I did feel a real responsibility to the family to tell the story properly,” she explains, especially after so many quotes in the press being attributed to them. Despite the multitude of themes being explored by this work – cultural identity, cross-cultural relationships, race (and modern perceptions of it), media exposure – this is a story that anyone can understand and connect with, and a story that is relevant to a wide audience. “Really it’s a story about a family that’s been torn apart, which is something a lot of people can relate too… it’s a very human story.” We live in times where people are trying to figure out and deal with cross-cultural relationships, but also in a time where we’re often surrounded be a climate of fear around Islam, making this play a piece that truly resonates.

Phillip Osment, Director of My Name Is… has worked with Bhuchar in the past, though never as a director. He’s also worked with verbatim theatre in the past, though nothing quite like this play. “Usually when I’ve worked with verbatim I’ve done the technique were the actors wear MP3s, so all the text is on MP3 and they don’t learn it they just speak what they hear in their ears. So it was really interesting for me to work on verbatim play that wasn’t done like that, where the actors were going to learn it… What also really attracted me was the way Sudha had used the verbatim, but it also still feels like a play because of the clever way that she’s interwoven the different accounts from the different points of view.”

Osment brings to light the moral issues he and Bhuchar faced in putting together a play where the role being played by the actors are not just from a script but they are portrayed real people. He explains the challenge this presents, not just for him as a director but also for the actors he is working with. “You don’t want the actors to make decisions that are out of kilter with the real people or that suggest things about the real people that might not be true.” Even calling the roles in the play ‘characters’ is a challenge in itself, because in the end, in order to direct a play, Osment had to treat the roles like they were simply characters in a play – and yet not lose touch with the real humans behind the story.

This is a play that on the one hand taps into people’s prejudices, and on the other taps into the universally human story of two people who fell in love and then drifted apart. In the confusing, emotional and often misrepresented saga of what happened after that, the fact that one of the people was Pakistani and one white British led people to make it mean something that it didn’t. When you see a story like this one splashed across a tabloid newspaper it’s very easy to forget that there’s real people and real relationships behind it. In My Name Is… Bhuchar and Osment are trying to show that side of the story – the story of the two people who fell in love.

My Name Is… is at the Arcola Theatre until 24 May. For more information and tickets, visit the Arcola’s website.