Night Writes is joined by actor Rajan Velu to discuss the upcoming production Norm & Ahmed with Australian Theatre Live.
Tell us about Norm & Ahmed.
It’s a play written in 1968 by Alex Buzo, which continues to be very relevant today and is also part of the HSC curriculum. It takes place at a bus stop, a little after midnight, when a conversation kicks off between a White Australian (Norm) and a Pakistani student (Ahmed) and we follow their dialogue for the next 60 minutes.
What sparked your interest in this project?
The play was well ahead of its time and discusses issues of immigration, race, and politics. I felt these topics were still relevant today despite the play being written more than 50 years ago and I wanted to see how it would play to a contemporary audience. The other thing that drew me in was the fact that this Australian play had a character from the sub-continent as one of the leads which is a very rare thing.
What were the most challenging and enjoyable aspects of rehearsing Norm & Ahmed?
One of the most challenging aspects was the short rehearsal period and fitting into a role that had been played for a number of years by another actor. Not to mention that Laurence Coy, who plays Norm, had done this play more than 800 times and was very familiar with it. I was starting from scratch and had to get up to speed fairly quickly.
One of the enjoyable aspects was listening to the wonderful theatre stories that our Associate Director Terry Clarke would tell us. He has had a long career in the theatre and has worked with many of Australia’s great actors.
How did you go about becoming Ahmed for this production?
I began with the script and mined it for all the clues that were provided to ensure Ahmed was a 3-dimensional character and not some caricature. I looked for parallels with Ahmed’s life so I could really get into his skin and portray each moment in the play truthfully. The rest happens on the rehearsal floor as I work with the other actor where things pop up and bring it all together.
How does Norm & Ahmed fit into the wider Australian theatre scene?
I think it’s one of the Australian classics, if there is such a thing.
Why is it important to tell this story now 60 years later?
Because it’s sadly still relevant today.
Norm & Ahmed is about racism and xenophobia. How has this production confirmed or challenged your understanding of these aspects of Australian culture and society?
It has definitely confirmed this idea in Australian culture and society. As much as we believe things have changed, at its core it has remained the same. All we have to do is look at our politicians and how they continue to make decisions and use the concept of the “other” to divide people.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
I hope the play allows the audience to hold a mirror up to their lives and perhaps prompt some sort of collective action.
Norm & Ahmed is running at Riverside Theatres from November 15th – 20th
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