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Writer and actor Ambreen Razia: ‘I wanted to put a female gang member at the forefront of my new play’

Ambreen Razia Ambreen Razia

After receiving acclaim for her debut play The Diary of a Hounslow Girl in 2016, Ambreen Razia has been commissioned to write a BBC3 pilot. She tells Giverny Masso about her latest play, Pot…

How did you get into theatre?

I didn’t go straight into acting, I started off as a facilitator working with young women and girls who have been in gangs or have experienced domestic violence. Working with those women, I was inspired to write The Diary of a Hounslow Girl, as I had never seen a young British Muslim girl at the forefront of a comedy play. I think that character deserved a voice. I didn’t expect it to take off like it did.

The Diary of a Hounslow Girl review at Ovalhouse, London – ‘astute and funny debut’

What is your new play about?

Gangs and the role of female gang members. We see a lot about young men and their role in gangs, but not women. I thought it was really important to put a female at the forefront of the story. As well as my work with female gang members, I was inspired by former gang member Tracey Miller’s autobiography [Sour: My Story: A Troubled Girl from a Broken Home] and how she has turned things around. The play is a three-hander centred around a 16-year-old girl. She wakes up to find her boyfriend missing and a drug dealer on her back.

What else are you working on?

I’m currently filming The Diary of a Hounslow Girl for the BBC – it’s so exciting. I’m also developing my third play, Keeper, which is about a young Muslim brother and sister living together in London. It’s about sibling relationships and the Islamophobia they experience, even though they’re very left wing. I wanted to write something for adults this time. I’m developing this as part of the Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers’ Group. They give you £1,000 – which is great – as well as support. It gives you the time to be able to write, and it means if you want to leave the house and work in a cafe sometimes, you can actually afford to do so.

Why is it important to tell these kinds of stories?

It’s important that young people from this world get to see themselves represented and reflected in a way that is not glamorised. It’s also essential that when you capture these voices, it’s in a way that’s authentic.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

What most people say: it’s getting that initial break. It’s the waiting around, and working even when there’s not necessarily an offer or a commission at the end of it. As an emerging writer, people say ‘you should feel so grateful and lucky’ to have the BBC pilot, and yes, I do – 100% – but I was waiting for two and a half years before that for something to be commissioned.

CV: Ambreen Razia

Training: BA acting for stage and screen, University of West London (2010-13); Identity School of Acting (2011-13)
First professional role: Words and Women, Edinburgh (2012)
Agent: Curtis Brown (acting); David Godwin Associates (writing)

Pot runs at Stratford Circus Arts Centre in London from September 26 to 29, then tours to locations including Brighton and Oxford until October 26

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