Nadeem Islam is performing in Oliver Twist at Leeds Playhouse, which is a co-production with Ramps on the Moon. He tells Giverny Masso about how the team has made the production fully accessible using sign language, audio description and captioning…
Who do you play in Oliver Twist?
I’m playing the Artful Dodger – what a cool lad.
What is it like being part of this production?
Incredible. It’s been a thought-provoking and game-changing experience. I knew British Sign Language and I used captions as a deaf audience member, but working with audio description and a different range of disabilities is new to me. Was it hard? Nope. It’s about finding the way together and it’s actually simpler than you think. The production is directed by Amy Leach who opened the space to be creative and welcome to anything. My hearing cast mates are experiencing working with BSL Deaf actors for the first time, and I was expecting them to feel overwhelmed. But they didn’t treat it as a difficult adjustment, they just talked to us and found the halfway point of communication. Respect to them.
When did you become interested in theatre?
As a little boy watching TV and theatre. It wasn’t about starring in a play or films – it was about the audience. The interaction between both worlds was incredible. So I did my GSCE in drama, and applied and got into the Brit School. Then I attended Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, but I left during the first year as I started to drift to the worlds of filming and theatres.
What have been some of your career highlights?
There are so many, it’s hard to choose. But Oliver Twist at Leeds Playhouse has been incredible, working with such talented people and finding a clever way to make the show accessible for everyone. We got there in the end and it was very rewarding. But before this, my highlight was Blasted by Sarah Kane, directed by Jenny Sealey. It was the first time I was cast in a serious role. The bonus is that I got an agent after that, so thank you Blasted.
What has been your biggest career challenge?
Showing that D/deaf actors are here. Some have not been convinced about how to make theatre accessible, and how they will communicate with us. Talk to us and we will work it out. Communication can be tricky but it always gets there in the end.
What would you most like to see change in the industry?
More D/deaf, disabled and black, Asian and minority ethnic actors for sure. More stories about them or more stories with them.
What advice would you give to young actors?
It’s hard but not impossible. Just keep on rising, commit to learning new skills and work with people – they might help you on the journey and make it quicker for you. But also have fun.
Training: Community Arts Practice at the Brit School; Applied Theatre at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
First professional role: Up ‘n’ Under tour with Fingersmiths (2018)
Agent: Production Exchange
Oliver Twist is at Leeds Playhouse until Match 21. Details: leedsplayhouse.org.uk