Nadeem Islam on playing a misfit for Deafinitely Theatre’s Something Else

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Something Else, Deafinitely Theatre’s stage adaptation of Kathryn Cave’s children’s story of the same name plays Derby, London, Bristol and Oxford 28 May – 2 June. It tells the story of a small creature who lives his life always trying to fit in. But he never does, because he’s Something Else. Deaf actor, Nadeem Islam plays the titular character. Colin Hambrook caught up with him.

Nadeem Islam

Nadeem Islam

Nadeem Islam has had a varied career spanning TV and stage, but certainly didn’t come into theatre via the traditional route. I ask him how it all began.

“It all started in primary school when I was a young. I remember we did a simple play during Black History Month telling the story of Nelson Mandela – I was to tell Nelson’s story.

At that stage I wasn’t really aware of what acting entailed. When I started researching his story and exploring his life I really enjoyed it. This process of becoming this other person and telling their story was really fascinating to me. That was the moment when I realised I wanted to continue this exploration of characters with other scripts and tell those stories.

After that brief experience with acting on stage as a child I found myself more involved with on-screen productions. I saw a casting call for Small World (BSLBT) in a Deaf News mail-out. After attending the audition they got in touch and offered me the role. Small World is a sit-com web-series about a group of deaf people and the people they encounter in their flat. I played a character called Omar, a cocky geezer who owns the local kebab shop.

Working on the show was tremendous fun and I was really fortunate and grateful to be a part of that series. I truly feel if I hadn’t had that experience I would be on a completely different path right now, probably at university and maybe not even acting.

Following that I was approached to be a presenter on a documentary called Lost Space. This focused on the effect of a Bristol deaf club closing. This then led to me being a presenter on a children’s TV show called Up For It. This really built on my experience of working with and relating to a younger audience.

After that, I felt I wanted to try something different – something that was more challenging, live and raw. An opportunity to connect with actors on a stage, in front of an audience, was something that appealed to me.

Around this time, Paula Garfield, Artistic Director of Deafinitely Theatre, got in touch. Having seen me in various circles she wanted to have a meeting and get to know me a little better. We discussed my interest in theatre and the differences in performing on stage and screen. Following that I was offered an audition for Something Else and soon after I was delighted to be offered a part. My first professional theatre credit!”

Kathryn Cave’s children’s novel explores the notion of what it’s like to be an outsider, with the titular character something of a misfit, purely because he’s different. I ask Nadeem how he decided to approach the role.

“Something Else is a character who has been neglected and left out of activities because he simply looks different. He’s blue, has a big nose, unusual hair and is short and stumpy. Despite being very energetic and friendly, he is desperately lonely and sad. It’s his dream to be accepted in society and finally have friends to play with, but is this something he can ever achieve?

Using the book as a reference, we’ve had numerous discussions as a group about our characters. We’ve discussed personal experiences and how they might relate to our characters. For example, I could relate the perception of Something Else and his differences with my experiences as a deaf person. This has allowed me a lot of self-reflection and enabled me to find aspects of the character I can personally relate to.

What was also helpful to me was to watch children’s TV programmes and see how presenters and performers related to younger audiences.

I hope it will encourage children to recognise that people’s differences are not something to judge or be afraid of. Promoting the idea instead that people who are seemingly different can in fact be happy and live in harmony together.”

The original book of Something Else is memorably illustrated by acclaimed illustrator and cartoonist Chris Riddell, perhaps best known for his work on The Edge Chronicles and as the Observer’s political cartoonist. But how can that aesthetic be brought to life on stage?

“The visuals have mostly been translated through improvisation. Looking at the image we would think about what was happening to this character before and after the scene and how it connects with the following image.

One of my favourite images of the book is when we see Something Else looking in the mirror and realising he is, in fact, similar to Something. In the next image we see him dragging Something back up the hill.

It’s my favourite because it’s such a strong moment and illustration of self-reflection and the beginning of their friendship.”

Having been involved in an initiative at the National Theatre, I am curious as to how this experience may differ from working with a Deaf-led theatre company.

“I was fortunate enough to be involved in a project called ‘Beyond the Canon’ at the National Theatre. This was a project that aimed to include more BAME artists and give them a platform to perform and meet other industry professionals. It was a great experience but I encountered a number of difficulties.

This began with the issue of the booked interpreter not showing up. This meant I didn’t have access to all the information I needed and couldn’t communicate with the majority of other people at the event. Even with the Q&A panel at the end, I wasn’t able to participate and contribute my opinions. This was hugely frustrating.

At Deafinitely Theatre – it’s already evident in the name – there’s a connection for me and a confidence that the barriers I’ve faced previously will not be encountered here.

Having a deaf director is really wonderful. We can connect and discuss matters with ease and I also have a positive deaf role-model to look up to. What is also great is that the hearing members of the team have all had BSL lessons or deaf awareness training, so we are all at some level of understanding. From the beginning I have felt complete inclusivity and equality.

I know all theatre companies have different ways of working and I wouldn’t want to impose anything that changes their process. However, I feel that something as simple as deaf awareness training would benefit theatres greatly and open up a much more equal and rewarding working relationship with deaf actors and theatre makers.”

Something Else premieres at Claremont High School Academy, Brent on 26 May before going to Derby Theatre, Wyndham’s Theatre in London, actacentre in Bristol and Pegasus in Oxford. Click here to book tickets.

A trailer for the show is available below: