Sadiq Ali and his potent mix of love, drugs and the intricacies of Islam

by | Dec 20, 2023

“Haram” is anything forbidden by Islam. But what if that applies to the very essence of who you are? Based on lead artist Sadiq Ali’s personal experience and candid interviews with members of the LGBTQI+ community who identify as (ex) Muslim, The Chosen Haram deals with themes of sexuality, faith, addiction and connection in a story of two gay men who meet on a dating app.

Read on to hear more from Sadiq Ali about his show which takes a focus on the impacts of gay shame, drugs, chemsex, faith and addiction and how these can become barriers in our desire to find sexual freedom, define our identities and ultimately find love.

What was the inspiration for the show and what is it about this show that you consider to be enduring?

Growing up as a young queer man in a faith practicing household can be quite confusing to say the least. Especially when growing up in the UK where the lessons you learn at home are very different from the experiences you have at school or with friends. Those life lessons start to teach you contradictory rules about your identity and your purpose in the world. Then on coming out (if you can) those contradictions can solidify more strongly, and I personally found myself living a double life.

The creation of this show started as a place to process that, to express something I didn’t have the words to say, and it grew from there. After initial Performance Art style explorations which were largely the equivalent to a scream into the emotional void – for hours I would prostrate myself in prayer, washing in alcohol, with graphic pornography on projection and drug paraphernalia all around (don’t worry the show is very different to that now and what is art for anyway but to express something). After this I started to realise that this was a story about more than just me and my experience. It’s something that a lot of people face.

In that sense I wanted to explore what this character, a gay Muslim, might experience if, and when, he had the opportunity to explore a relationship with another man. A man who was comfortable in his sexuality, who explored corners of what that identity meant that the initial character would shy away from and ultimately how the underground queer world of sex, excess and chems would liberate him (or not) to create a newfound form of righteous experience.

How would you describe the show to someone who knew very little about it?

Sex, Drugs and Islam. It’s a little bit sexy a lot of honest.

The performance has no traditional dialogue. It’s a story that doesn’t need words for you to experience. The simplistic yet beautiful and highly creative visual use of space will take you on an emotional rollercoaster, through the highs and lows as you connect with the characters, and as they connect with each other. The show is performed on two Chinese Poles (these are an acrobatic circus discipline that see 5 meter high poles climbed and performed on to tell the story). These poles allow us to flip our theatre stage to the vertical and we follow the story of what happens with these two characters in a very different way than you can see in most other shows. It’s beautiful and breathtaking and at times quite candid and intense. It’s not always the easiest performance to watch (and other times it is a pure joy!). It is both powerful and something you will be unlikely to have seen Circus do before.

What are some of the themes involved and why are these important?

We look at sexuality, faith, addiction, love, identity. The themes within the work are universal and speak to audience members from all walks of lives. That’s really important to me. This is a visibly queer work. We are watching the relationship and experience of these two men unfold before us but it is in no way exclusionary. You will understand and connect with the performance regardless of how you identify.

The show is also underpinned by the devastating effects of internalised shame. Something that may be freeing and liberating for one person can pull another to the edge of destruction. Why is that? I truly believe that some of what we see in the show can easily be avoided and I hope that watching this will not only entertain or inspire you but foster a little more empathy for each other.

What do you love the most about the festival performance and what is particularly great about the Sydney Festival?

The journey to here has been incredible and somewhat surreal. I premiered this show in 2022 and took it to the Edinburgh Fringe. We were quite quickly snapped up and have been all over the world – but there’s nothing quite like coming this far. It’s momentous for me as an artist, for the company we are forming together and is testament to the work. The UK right now is cold and wet – and I can’t wait to spend some time with you in the height of summer posting selfies from the beach (obviously not when working on the show for you!)

What excites you the most about appearing live – what keeps the fire in the belly burning?

In a 2 person show the level of trust and understanding that builds is something quite remarkable to experience. While the show is the show and its structure doesn’t change, every single performance will have it’s own energy, its own moments. Each audience will give us a different feeling of the journey we go on together. We can hear you giggle or gasp and it feeds us. We feel you as you are drawn in and you feel us. And more than anything we share just over an hour of a very special place in time together.

What sort of artist do you consider yourself – how would you describe yourself as a creative?

I call myself a Circus Artist and Performance Maker. That’s vague. Intentionally. I’m on a transitionary journey at the moment having made this full length work of circus theatre and seeing how it’s been received all over the world. Before this I worked primarily in other peoples shows and in Cabaret and Variety. I’m on a mission now to continue to carve out this niche I’ve found. To tell queer narratives through physical circus, theatre and dance. I love real stories and telling them this way is pure magic to me.

Who inspires you and why?

I’m inspired by people at the edge of society, people who are ignored or forgotten or looked past. I’m inspired by their will to carry on and survive and keep pushing forward. More than anything I’m inspired by the friends of mine who have come back from the brink of addiction and manage to live happy successful lives (this is in no way to judge those who do not make that). I am in awe of resilience and I connect with that massively. I know you probably wanted me to reel of companies whose work influences my own and I could give some examples but in terms of this show, this feels right.

What is next for you?

Well Sydney of course. There is no way I’m coming this far without having a little holiday and I’m very excited! Then on returning to the UK I’ll be working on a couple of new shows. The first of which ‘Tell Me’ is a show about HIV, Stigma and Polyamory (fun times!) and has already started its initial development. Another is a queer show for younger audiences. These next years are about learning from others, soaking up all I can from the wonderful experiences and artists I’m being exposed too and channelling that into directing more queer circus. I love seeing the landscape of the work around me change and I want to continue to be a part of that.

Expertly and emotively performed on Chinese poles and set to a thumping soundtrack, this unique work of physical theatre is a potent mix of love, drugs and the intricacies of Islam. The highs and lows of their relationship and the barriers to happiness they face are made movingly apparent, in a show whose visual flair matches its technical prowess. 

Stacked with physical humour, pain and joy, it’s a love story like no other.

 January 16 – 21

The Chosen Haram – Sydney Festival

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