We spoke to the ISHQ Creative Team including Designer Declan Randell and Director Farooq Beg...
Farooq Beg - Director
What made you want to get involved with this project?
Huma and I have been working on this for a very long time (almost 7 years). The idea was to do this as an epic like our previous mega 'sound n light live dramas' at World Heritage sites in Pakistan which we pioneered and received accolades for.
But with ISHQ we were going a step further. This was planned to be performed in an abandoned village complete with a river and lovely mustard fields. But it could not happen for multiple reasons and when we were finally going for the stage option, along came a rare opportunity to work with the PHC London to mark 70 years of Pakistan's independence and Pak/UK relations.
So here we are living the dream while the village waits for our return one day.
We have lived with the story for many years now. It wasn’t a case of our involvement with the project it was more about how it evolved.
ISHQ is based on the story of Heer Ranjha, the classic love story by Sufi Saint Waris Shah. How familiar were you with the story before your involvement with this project? We have grown up with the story which dates back to 1400 AD during the rule of the Lodi dynasty in India which was established by Afghan rulers. Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in 1500s and Waris Shah in 1600s. They seem to have taken inspiration from the original folk legend through oral history. Who knows?
What has the casting process been like? What were the main things you learned about the characters and their relationships along the way?
The casting process has not been easy as we were limited to the kind of actors we needed for the lead cast from Pakistan who could sing, dance and act. Dual talents were many but three was a difficult no. But we have finally reached the goal and just cant wait for the cast to arrive We have a terrific dance ensemble mostly from the UK, and a great set of talented new and veteran actors from Pakistan. As far as the relationships are concerned. They are complicated and intertwined though they are very much the same as of today in most romantic legends. The formats and geography changes but much is about boy meets girl, parents disagree, there is a villain, justice prevails and all is well or ends in tragedy. The difference with ISHQ is that it deals with so many issues that are surfacing in modern society today. Religious bigotry, gender, harassment, male domination, intolerance etc all sound frightening but Murshid Mushfiq in his script and Huma, an activist and the producer have masterly steered the musical into a powerful piece of woman empowerment where in 1400 AD a woman challenges a patriarchal society and demands the rights Islam gave to women. ISHQ is such a unique and entertaining show that will leave audiences entertained and a lot to think about.
What were you looking for when selecting the creative team for this project?
People with passion and awareness of the issues and an insatiable appetite to do their best in forging relationships between diverse communities.
Have the creative team discussed the significance of the production marking the anniversary of Pakistan’s independence?
They are all aware and are much appreciative about the objectives and very keen to play their part in raising awareness about Pakistan and its rich and diverse cultural heritage that is grossly misrepresented.
What do you hope an audience will take away from this production?
A lot in terms of music and Sufi poetry and hopefully awareness about a woman's role in society and how misrepresented Islam is, despite the fact that it was the earliest religion to give women equal status and rights.
I sincerely hope ISHQ helps to change perceptions to create a tolerant and peaceful society.
Declan Randell - Designer
What first interested you about this project?
I love new challenges - I enjoy working with new creative teams and in spaces that I have not designed in before, so this project ticked a bunch of boxes.
What challenges are presented by fulfilling the three roles of Set Designer, Projections and Lighting all at the same time?
The biggest challenge is time management. It is a very carefully orchestrated composition when designing all three elements and I have developed a system over the years that makes this all a bit easier - but it is always a big task. The advantages of being the production designer are that it means I am thikning about all three elements all the time, right from the start. It means that every decision is thought through from all design perpsectives whihc leads to a more cohesive aesthetic
What are your major influences on this project? Have you immersed yourself in Pakistani culture as inspiration?
There has been loads of research into Pakistani culture, landmarks, landscapes and the like. It is essential that we capture the true flavour of the country within our theatrical context. We have studied the work of several artists, watched relevant films and related documentaries and are building up our palette of references and images that we will use to incorporate into the final designs.
If you could describe your vision for this production in three words, what would they be?
Elegant, flowing, beautiful
What are the technical challenges of working at Sadler’s Wells? Did the time pressures and logistics of this production present any challenges when you were creating initial ideas for the design?
Sadlers is a very well equipped and designed theatre space and I am really looking forward to working there. The design has had to be developed to factor in the limited time we will have on stage before our first performance and knowing how tight the schedules are in advance means that you can factor this in to the design scheme and come up with something that allows for maximum effect in minimal time, but at the same time does not look reduced or compromised in any way - a real challenge!
Did you feel a responsibility to remain faithful to the the style of the original text by Sufi Saint Waris Shah, or were you keen to take a more radical interpretation of the story?
As a designer, I have a very particular design aesthetic and while of course, I am always faithful to the text, I do like to add my own "flavour" to any show that I design.
For more information on ISHQ, click here