I went to see 10 Nights at Bush Theatre. This was to be the the Preview Night, but I was notified during the day that due to some technical problems it was now classed as an Open Dress Rehearsal. The producers made an announcement to that effect at the start as well. However it all went fine.
Performance is in the smaller Studio space, with all the seating arranged on one side facing the stage area. There is a single set to represent the interior of a mosque somewhere in southern England.
Captions are projected on the upper part of the larger back sheeting. I suppose when the curtain is pulled forward some of them might not be visible for seats on the left hand side.
The show is presented with Zaqi Ismail playing the central role of Yasser, and also voicing in the various friends and relatives he interacts with. On stage is also a sign-language interpreter, in addition to the captions shown behind the performers. There is a soundtrack of Arab-influenced dance music played in the interludes between monologues.
Yasser is a young British Muslim who only usually attends mosque during Ramadan but has now made a commitment to go through Itikaf for 10 nights. He is taking his religion more seriously, and it is very obvious that he is reacting not just to traumatic recent events, but he also has problems in his hedonistic lifestyle which he needs to get away from. It was obvious what his shaking hands indicated at the start, even if he needed to go through the retreat to realise he was detoxifying from alcohol abuse, as his friends gently explained to him. He was also getting an essential break from the silliness of social media and an obsession with Instagram. But he was also learning that religion is not simply a holiday from “normal” life, and that new intentions were to be discovered.
This is a story about growing into maturity through remorse and the need for forgiveness. Yasser was in a drinking group with his old friend Aftab, and he was distraught after Aftab died in a drunk-driving crash. He decided to perform Itikaf because Aftab was going to do it. He has to be told how to pray and how to fast correctly, and how to respond to symbols in the Quran that he is reading in detail for the first time. Aftab appears on stage, after haunting him through memories of being in the mosque together as boys. But Itikaf is not a therapy for problems in living; like all religious practice it should shape life and point to something beyond young men’s rush for excitement.
The EAR DEFENDERS shown at the top are available for anyone who needs them, as this is an inclusive show sensitive for hearing-impaired audiences. You could also take them as a visual metaphor for either youth shutting its ears to finer music, or as faith as a protecting stillness in the midst of chaos. Neither image is used in the text. The playscript mentions that “10 Nights started out as a one man play with two people playing the same character”. It has this dedication: