I Wanna Be Yours is the widely acclaimed debut play from London Laureate and poetry slam champion Zia Ahmed, a contemporary cross-cultural romance. Directed by Resident Director Tasnim Hossain, it is a compelling new work exploring identity, racism and love, this Australian premiere stars Oz Malik and Eleanor Barka in their MTC debut.
Hossain was drawn to the piece for two reasons: the writer’s deep love of language and the subject matter. “Ahmed’s skill with language comes through with the lyrical rhythms of many of the direct address sections and in the visceral images that he paints with his words,” says Hossain. “The subject is the relationship between Ella, who is a white woman from Yorkshire who has moved to South London, and Haseeb, a brown man of Pakistani heritage who is a North Londoner, born and bred. The complexity and the richness of their relationship is what drew me to this work.”
Hossain says the work captures the wonder and ache of first love with clarity and humour and her hope is that audiences go away with a sense of being connected to both Ella and Haseeb. “In many ways, they are very different from each other and from our local Victorian audiences, but they are so clearly drawn that they feel like they leap off the page,” she says.. “I think people love love and this is very much a love story. It’s never in any doubt that these two young people who really do love each other but the challenges they face are wide-ranging and complex. I hope audiences go away thinking and talking about the very difficult conversations they see Ella and Haseeb wade through.”
While this will be Hossain’s debut show with MTC, she’s no stranger to the Company as an alumna of the Women in Theatre program. Hossain also won the 2022 Women’s Agenda Leadership Award for Emerging Leader in Arts & Entertainment. Hossain says it has been wonderful working with the Melbourne Theatre Company. “The company was familiar to me, having been a mentee in Dramaturgy and Literary Management as part of the 2018 Women in Theatre cohort, but I’d never worked here before. Being part of Anne-Louise’s vision for her first season was also incredibly exciting for me as the season has centered really interesting stories and many perspectives we might not have seen on our stages before. I can feel the support of people in the building from the workshops through to marketing and artistic, and it has been reassuring knowing that that support has been there throughout my first time directing for this company.”
Hossain’s favourite time in the rehearsal room has actually been the development of her creative partnerships with her design team, which he believes is often underrated or not talked about as often. “Being fairly new to Melbourne, I’d never worked with any of the designers before, but discovering that we all had similar senses of humour, a love of hot sauce, and a deep desire to delve into the theatrical over the literal has been joyous, ” she says. “One of the biggest challenges has been working out how to differentiate scenes from one another and the moments of direct address from dialogue. We’ve used sound and light to help a number of these transitions but mostly we’ve just drilled them all a lot!
As a director, Hossain really loves text explaining that she loves a robust script with clear characters. “I love text that is meaty but also text that leaves spaces for the imagination. But I also love the form of theatre itself, which of course is about so much more than just the words. I love the abstraction and stylised imagery that can be achieved when we’re not constrained by the literal or naturalistic. I think the way I work will continue to shift and evolve with each production. I tend to work with early career artists, particularly actors, so it’ll be interesting for me to adapt (or not) how I work in a rehearsal room with more established artists as I continue to direct.”
It is no surprise then that Hossain is interested in the stories we don’t get to see very often. “I’m interested in the stories of young people as told by themselves. I’m interested in the experiences of migrants and their children. I’m interested in voices that have been deliberately or unwittingly silenced for a long time. I am interested in them because I feel like I haven’t gotten enough opportunities to see them onstage and now is a wonderful time to be a theatre artist and audience member because we are increasingly turning to these kinds of stories to learn, grow and share.”
Hossain says that she learned a lot as a participant of Melbourne Theatre Company’s Women in Theatre program. he program ran for about ten years and really did bring together some of the most exciting early- and mid-career artists and serve as an important training and networking space for a number of participants. “I remember getting along so well with Kat Chan, a set and costume designer who was in my cohort, and feeling sad that I wouldn’t get to work with her because we lived in different cities. As soon as I knew that I’d be directing in the 2023 season, I knew I wanted to work with her. Rachel Lee, our lighting designer, was also an alumna of the program and it was important to me to have us all work together, as artists with similar sensibilities and passions, but also to demonstrate the power of programs such as Women in Theatre to develop artistic careers.”
Hossain admits to not having particular inspirations in the arts while admiring all of the artists who have trained her and taken chances on her – too many to count. “The people I admire most – and it’s deeply uncool of me to say this – are my parents,” she says. ” My father, who has always been a writer, but in Bengali, the language we speak at home but worked full-time in the Australian public service to support his family, and my mother (who also worked in the public service – it’s a Canberra thing) who has the capacity to connect with anyone, regardless of background or language, and to care about them and their stories. I grew up with a deep sense of hospitality and that has extended to how I see my job in the theatre: each play is an offering and an invitation to an audience.”
A compelling and topical work of extraordinary vitality, Hossain would encourage audiences to accept the invitation and spend just over an hour with the troupe to fall in love with Ella and Haseeb, as they fall in love with each other. “I think there is so much that can pull us apart in the world, and even though this particular love story is far from smooth sailing, the conversations that these characters have – and the conversations that we hope audiences will have as they leave our theatre – make it all worthwhile.”
I Wanna be Yours runs till May 27