maatin is the writer of Duck, and has been selected for the RSC’s new national playwriting competition 37 Plays with Friday at the masjid.
Imy Wyatt Corner, associate artist at Arcola Theatre, directs this one-man show of a British Indian schoolboy as he attempts to reach dizzying heights of cricketing glory in his prestigious, elite school. To do so, he has to contend with the challenges of adolescence, the pressures of sporting competition, and come to terms with his identity in an environment that doesn’t cater for difference.
Duck is inspired by maatin’s own experiences attending a British public school. It was first developed as part of the Hampstead Theatre’s INSPIRE new writing programme with the support of Roxana Silbert and Davina Moss, and mentorship from acclaimed playwright Roy Williams.
Your new play Duck is coming to the Arcola Theatre, what can you tell us about the play?
It’s a one-person show about a fifteen-year-old called Ismail – the star cricketer in his posh London school. It follows him through the summer of 2005 as plenty of stuff goes on in his life and in the world around him, such as England’s memorable Ashes series win and the 7/7 London bombings.
He’s a British south Asian, Muslim teenager who’s yet to realise what it means to be brown in the world he occupies. He’s top of the heap with a lot of privilege and a seemingly easy life, before things go wrong for him both on and off the pitch, at which point his identity starts to come into focus, and his love for cricket wanes for the first time.
Duck refers to the cricket score of zero runs (a nightmare for any batsman!) as well as the duck pond where Ismail goes to try and figure out everything he’s dealing with.
What first inspired you to write it?
I firmly believe that the format of theatre as an art form – the audience choosing to sit and receive whatever’s happening on the stage – is such a rare and powerful privilege. So the starting point for me for any play is, what can I do with that opportunity?
I wanted to depict the experience of a south Asian child amid a sea of whiteness – cricket whites, white classmates and teachers, and in an institution that’s a stronghold of white supremacy. But rather than them struggling, I felt like a more interesting starting point would be for them to firmly fit in. They’re popular, they’re succeeding. Then can we tip the balance and see what happens. How far can their class and wealth privilege take them if their skin is still brown?
Cricket felt like an amazing way to explore this – the duality of Englishness and Indianness within the sport, the idea of the good immigrant as accepted for their elite talent, the notion of manners and an honour code in the game. I wanted to unpick those themes and question their validity.
I was inspired to write it as a one-person show by mentor Roy Williams who had just written the incredible Death of England, which left me thinking, “what if a brown actor had the chance to command a stage all by themself like that?”
What was the biggest challenge you found in writing about your own experiences?
By far, my biggest challenge was to find a way to talk about 7/7 while desperately wanting to not write a play about a Muslim character that referenced terrorism. But the truth is, that moment was extremely formative for me – I was 15 at the time, and it definitely shaped the way I – and most Muslims in Britain – fit into the world. 7/7 sparked two decades of policymaking to criminalise and create hostility towards Muslims that remains present today. That felt important enough to talk about, on different terms to how these events have generally been shown. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded but my hope is to reframe the narrative or at least offer a different, relatable perspective.
And what did you find most enjoyable about the process of writing Duck?
One of the major storylines in the play is the relationship between father and son, which was a way for me to explore the consequences of migration and assimilation in a family context.
My parents moved to this country whereas I was born here, and with that comes an interesting inter-generational difference in perspectives and choices. The phrase “you don’t get it” can be universally found in all teenagers’ mouths, but I think it has an even more particular quality to it for anyone who grew up in a different place to those who raised us!
At times – and I think it’s true for a lot of second generation immigrants – those differing points of view can make you feel far away from the people closest to you, which is such a challenging thing to go through! I wanted to find a way to talk about that that felt both true to the feelings one might have as a teenager, but with the benefit of an adult, retrospective lens.
Being able to share this with audiences who can really relate to similar experiences is the most enjoyable part for sure.
You’ve been selected for the RSC’s new national playwriting competition 37 Plays, how does that feel and what opportunities has it brought you?
It’s very recent news, but extremely nice to hear! In a career with plenty of rejection, you learn to really appreciate any form of acknowledgement. I feel very lucky – these moments can lift your spirits when you’re ready to give up, which is an unfortunate, inevitable part of this journey. It’s a play that’s a real passion project of mine, and an honour to have the RSC’s name associated with it – and if anyone’s interested in producing a rambunctious caper with six leads set in a mosque, please reach out!
I must say though, competitions can be really tough on new writers. It’s hard not to absorb the many faceless rejections as a sign that you’re not good enough, whereas in truth, they’re highly subjective, and you have the slimmest chance of winning. I try my best to not overemphasise them in terms of evaluating my work, and would recommend that to my fellow writers as well – keep going!
What are you most looking forward to about working with The Arcola and Imy Wyatt Corner on Duck?
I’ve admired The Arcola, Mehmet, and Leyla for a long time and it has always been on my dream list of places to stage a play, so that it’s coming this early on in my career is hard to wrap my head around. A lot of thanks is owed to my director Imy Wyatt Corner – she’s been a champion of this play since the beginning and instrumental in bringing it to the stage. The basis of our creative relationship is shared values and trust, which I believe grounds the entire process and makes her the perfect person to collaborate with. She brings the best out of everyone she works with in a way that I admire – I know the creative team under her leadership will elevate this script to far greater heights than my words are capable of.