Snookered is an insightful story about four guys who meet up to honour their friend’s death. Its writer, Ishy Din, utilises Punjabi-English urban patois (which is being developed in Northern towns) to bring to life the characters on stage. It provides a window into the lives of young British Asian men: “It’s essentially a story of young men struggling with life. The issues they deal with would be different in different circumstances, but they would still be issues. That’s what I think, it just so happens that they are Asian men.”
So, who is Ishy Din? Certainly he is not your typical “new” playwright. At 43, he has been driving a taxi for more than two decades in Middlesbrough, where he lives with his wife and children. Recently, The Guardian’s Matt Trueman questioned how important a playwright’s past actually is. The article provides food for thought on the issue, but it is clear through talking to Din that his experiences have heavily informed his work. Despite his unconventional route into playwriting, it’s apparent that his journeys provide a great springboard of material: “I worked out one night that I’d overheard 160,000 conversations with different people”. As soon as these “little nuggets” of stories fall into his lap, they’re quickly written in the little book which he keeps in his taxi – “it doesn’t have to be a whole story, it can be something small”.
Din’s enthusiasm about his driving tales is infectious. He excitedly describes one example: “I met this Afghanistani who now lives in Russia. He moved over there to live after the Russians had occupied their country. I found out there were a lot of Afghanistani ex–pats, which is amazing. It’s still there in my book, for me to look back on and research.”
He believes that new writing is about people with stories to tell, regardless of age – despite the image of young people associated with new writing. Din himself remembers, “I didn’t really decide to go into playwriting; it wasn’t a conscious decision.” A simple set of circumstances brought about his first venture into the form: a new unused computer and a Channel 5 radio play competition. “I thought it would be a good way to use the new machine.” Luckily they called six weeks later and offered to commission and produce his work – otherwise Din may not have taken his next steps into playwriting. He reveals his inexperience with the medium when he divulges how he didn’t know what commissioning a play meant, but after this event he began entering writing competitions. He pinpoints this time as a defining moment because he “used to think that taxi drivers weren’t allowed to write, but we are. I thought it was only the people educated at Cambridge who got to write, and I think that if I hadn’t got through the competition it would have affirmed my prejudices.”
It has now been eight years since his play was first commissioned. Din says he has spent time learning his craft through workshops, which he has found “incredibly practical and enlightening, and definitely something which I’ve had to work at to maximise my ideas and present them.” He has worked with Tamasha for several years, which runs numerous workshops to help develop budding directors, writers and actors. “Tamasha is fantastic, it puts so much work into telling different stories from people with an Asian background. It’s really nice that I’ve been fortunate enough to bump into them along the way.”
The creative process for Din starts off with “a little kernel of something – it could be absolutely anything. I spend six months pondering it. Taxi driving frees up a lot of headspace, little things pop into your head. I hate the physical act of writing; I dread it.” When it comes to writer’s block, however, it is simply procrastination in his opinion. The best thing to do, he says, is to battle through until you come out the other side.
When writing Snookered, he was inspired bySimon Stephens and his play Christmas (cleverly suggested to him by a director at Tamasha). “The story is about four guys in a pub, and one of the character’s language was incredibly profane. I thought it was the BBC rules of Received Pronunciation that applied to playwriting for me. So it was a huge revelation.” Received Pronunciation, also known as the Queen’s English, centres on avoiding regional accents and essentially being well spoken. Originally it was the standard form used across the BBC, however presenters with regional accents are now also employed. Din’s characters are partly autobiographical: “I think you are a constructor of stories – that’s what your job is. You put something in from yourself, you give it humanity.”
Testament to Din’s work is Simon Stephens’ proclamation that Snookered is “a brilliant play”. It is part of a trilogy which Tamasha Theatre has commissioned about three different generations of Asian communities. Din eagerly explains that the trilogy will open different windows into the unexplored area and is “a good way of looking at the whole experience… The first generation is about people whose circumstances have changed, and they want to make a fortune. The second is about the generation who came to England when they were 14 or 15, they experienced what it was to grow up in Pakistan and work in a factory; all of the jobs are going and they have a unique set of problems to deal with. The third generation have been here for decades, after many years all of their families are here and their home country’s changed so much.”
Din confesses that he has “too many literary heroes”, including Arthur Miller, John Sullivan and Shakespeare. The cycle continues too, with his passion for the pen rubbing off on his family: “My daughter writes scripts. She’ll write a three page script and then she’ll get us to perform it. We act it out and she gives us a hard time, so we have to do it 50 times.”
Animated and down-t0-earth, it’s unsurprising that Din has a lot of different exciting projects lined up, including being a Royal Exchange Manchester Pearson Playwright in Residence in 2012, writing a musical and developing a radio play. He reveals the that his new radio play is about the relationship between a supermarket online shopper and a customer: “I was taking this guy to ASDA at night, and I presumed he was a shelf stacker. But then I found out that he was shopper who goes around and collects the items you order online – before they are put in a van and delivered to you. This had never occurred to me before. I thought wouldn’t it be brilliant if the two characters knew each other in real life, and they didn’t like each other – but through their shopping they were attracted to each other.” Long may Din continue to use the goldmine of characters and plots secreted away in his little black notebook.
Snookered is at The Bush Theatre until 24 March. For tickets and more information, visit the website here.
Image credit: Lewis Wileman