Q+A with writers Shamia Chalabi and Sarah Henley

Q+A with writers Shamia Chalabi and Sarah Henley

Habibti Driver is a brand-new hilarious comedy that makes its world premiere on our stage this April! Find out more about the show from the writers Shamia Chalabi and Sarah Henley.

Tell us a little about yourselves and what inspired you to want to become writers.

SC - I’m an Egyptian/British writer/actor based in London but raised in Wigan. It sounds cliche, but I started writing because there were very few parts out there for me that I could identify with; I’m proudly mixed-race, and I felt under-represented in terms of opportunity, which is why I started writing this piece in particular. At times I also felt like I was in some sort of hidden camera show and wondered whether other people would relate to my experiences. What better way to find out than just putting them out there?

SH - I started writing because I found a lot of humour in the day-to-day, and, having trained in law and musical theatre as a performer, felt like something finally clicked when I wrote my first play - which incidentally is where I met Shamia and Tim (who plays Chris). I’ve been writing ever since and had lots of ups and downs, most recently writing the Christmas show for the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, an adaptation of the Wizard of Oz.

Can you tell us what the play is about?

It’s about a mixed-culture family, navigating their day to day lives and relationships with each other; a comedy which hopefully brings people together.

What can audiences expect from this production?

Laughs, realness, northern warmth, pies, pasties, clashing cultures, Wigan, Boxing Day costumes, tears of joy and everything in between.

How did the two of you come to collaborate on this project?

SC - We have known each other since Sarah’s first play and are the best of friends.

SH - Sham started writing some autobiographical scenes and got me involved to develop it. Sham’s life is inherently funny and brilliant and it’s been easy to collaborate as we know each other and each other’s families so well, and leave our egos at the door.

The play is based on Shamia’s real life experiences – why do you think it is important to tell this story?

It’s a beacon of hope and positivity around mixed-ethnicity families, and regardless of that it’s also many other people’s story. It’s funny and not too worthy and celebrates that people are largely good at heart.

Shamia - you are also starring in the play as Shazia. Can you tell us a little about the character? And as the character is based on your own life what are the similarities and differences between yourself and Shazia?

In terms of what’s similar - Shazia is torn between two cultures, proud of both, but ultimately feels more Northern and ‘white’ than she does Egyptian. She desperately wants to connect with the Egyptian side, but doesn’t know how to at points.

Shazia becomes braver than I am during the play, and says things I wish I’d been able to say, and has done things I wish I’d done.

What is the message you want audiences to take away from this play?

Ultimately we’re all just people doing our best, a bit inappropriate at times - offensive without meaning it, but that’s not what’s important. Now more than ever, it’s time to focus on what unifies us and where possible, see the funny side of life.

Habibti Driver comes to the Octagon from Thu 21 April - Sat 7 May

Book tickets - from £15