Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Bright Lights and Stuffy Seats: Guest Post by Azma Dar


In my new novel, Spider, the main character, Sophie, is an aspiring actress, and I drew on some of my own experiences of working as a playwright with actors whilst creating her character. Sophie has her fair share of embarrassing moments during her struggling career, and although they weren’t inspired by anything that happened to me, I realised there have been a few cringey occasions in the theatre when I’ve also wished that I could just disappear. So here are three awkward little anecdotes from my time in that world…


Chaos was the first piece of writing that I ever had produced. Set in London post 9/11, it was a play about a dysfunctional Muslim family and a twenty minute excerpt was performed as a reading by  Kali Theatre, a wonderful company who produce new writing by women of South Asian descent.

At the end of the reading, the cast unexpectedly decided to call me up on to the stage to take a bow with them. Surprised, I trotted off nervously down the stairs, tripped slightly and sent one of my sandals flying. Rather than stop to put it back on and draw more unwanted attention to myself, I climbed up on to the stage and faced the applause with only one shoe, hoping the audience wouldn’t notice my bare foot.
Thankfully it didn’t do the play any harm and Kali Theatre produced Chaos as a full length show two years later.


Another Kali production, Noor, about a Sufi Indian WW2 undercover radio operator in Paris, was performed in London last year. I went to see the show on Press Night with my niece, Nadi, who is only four years younger but a head taller than me, and is, poor girl, prone to mysterious attacks of light headedness, which, despite numerous medical tests, remain undiagnosed. 

I like to sit at the back when I watch my own plays, so I can watch audience reactions, but Nadi excitedly grabbed a front row seat. It was a traverse set, a long, train carriage shaped stage in the middle of the theatre, with the audience seated one either side of it, facing each other across the action. This meant we were only about half a metre away from the stage, and under the glare of the bright lights.

There were about fifteen minutes left till the end of the show when Nadi muttered, “I’m feeling funny,” and began fanning herself with the programme. I spent the next fifteen minutes on tenterhooks, my eyes darting constantly from Nadi’s face to check whether she was about to dizzily topple over off her seat on to the stage, to the two exits, in opposite corners of the room, trying to map out the route I was going to squeeze through and stumble along as I tried to drag her out if she need to leave.

Luckily she survived till the end of play still conscious, and at the after party was surrounded and pampered by other audience members asking if she was ok- apparently they’d all noticed the incident.


This time, I was an audience member only and had no creative role. It was 2009, and I managed to get a ticket for the production at Wyndham’s Theatre in London starring Jude Law.

I also, around that time, in 2009, developed a habit of falling asleep, almost instantly sometimes, in the day time at any odd moment.

And when I fall asleep, I snore. Very loudly. The sound has been likened to a train, an earthquake and various wild animals. It’s ruined many a slumber party, driving other participants to any cold, empty corner of the house with enough soundproofing to allow them a couple of hours of sleep.

I went to see Hamlet on a hot July day. After a short time, I got drowsy, and despite fighting it as much as I could, nodded off about half an hour into the performance. The next thing I remember is the lady next to me saying, “Excuse me. I can’t hear the play.”

Probably the most embarrassing moment of my whole life. The lady changed seats with her friend after the interval. 
To conclude- 

Don’t wear backless sandals to anywhere there’s the remotest chance you might be called up on stage without warning.

Don’t sit in the middle of the front row if you’re susceptible to fainting fits caused by bright lights.

Never, ever go to watch Shakespeare on a hot day if a stuffy, quiet atmosphere sends you into a snooze.

Azma Dar is an author and playwright. She has written three full-length theatre productions, several short plays, a radio play for BBC Asian Network and the play entitled NOOR produced at Southwark Playhouse. Her debut novel, The Secret Arts, was published by Dean Street Press in 2015. 

Spider, a domestic thriller, is out today. Martin Edwards says about Spider"A well-written and engaging story of domestic suspense with a difference, set in the Muslim community of West Yorkshire. Multiple viewpoints are juggled skillfully to deliver a real page-turner.”


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