Iman Qureshi’s The Funeral Director is a deeply moving play about a muslim funeral director who refuses to perform a funeral for a man’s partner due to his sexuality. It discusses Islamic attitudes towards same-sex relationships and has a resonating moral message. The protagonist Ayesha, played by Aryana Ramkhalawon, owns the funeral parlour with her husband Zayd and their loveless marriage causes strains on their characters throughout the play.
I interviewed Aryana to get her insight as to what it’s like to play Ayesha and discussed some of the issues raised.
How did you prepare for the role of Ayesha?
When first rehearsing there was a lot of background research involved in to the role of a muslim funeral director, how they prepare the body and how it has to be carried out 24 hours after death. Additionally I looked at real life accounts of individuals affected by issues raised in the play such as Naz and Matt’s story to help me understand the background of the story. Issues touched on in the play such as forced marriage and old fashioned attitudes towards sexuality are very much prevalent in asian culture today and it was interesting to see the real life side of it.
What was the most challenging aspect of playing Ayesha?
Playing Ayesha was an eye opening experience and it is hard not to relate to her character. At the beginning she comes across as a disliked character due to her refusal to bury Tom’s partner however this changes throughout the play. She is a very guarded character which is often used as a coping mechanism and channelling her vulnerability was challenging.
Do you think the characters in The Funeral Director are relatable?
Many of the characters have relatable aspects and all are struggling with their own pain and trauma. The character of Tom draws on the issues of still existing homophobia within some communities and jamie the human rights lawyer is dealing with her own pain and trauma, every character goes through hardship which is a reflection of real life. Even the roll of a funeral director is relatable to some and we actually had some professional funeral directors come and see the play.
Does the character of Aeysha touches on wider issues of female sexuality?
Completely, the issue of forced marriage is explored as Ayesha is essentially trapped in a marriage where she is not attracted to her husband Zayd despite their marriage and the play draws on her deserving of happiness.
What sort of implications does such a play have on people in terms of religion? Does it challenge views?
It definitely raises the issue between being able to have a faith and be homosexual, which is still an issue today. For a play like this it’s impossible to not have some sort of reaction to it so I think even if people can’t relate specifically it has relatable aspects.
Do you think orthodox views and issues raised in the play are very much a prevalent topic in today’s society?
Yes and not just muslim community, every faith has these sort of issues especially when it comes to orthodox views. It takes so much courage for people in an orthodox religious community to come out and in many cases they have to choose between being happy with themselves or loosing their whole family which is a heart breaking and unimaginable situation, so the play definitely highlights this issue. There are charities such as the Naz and Matt foundation that help people through these issues.
Overall I have really enjoyed touring with the play and it’s a very real piece and I have loved working with the cast.
The Funeral Director is currently touring and will be showing at nottingham playhouse on the following dates: 14, 15 & 16 March 2019 at 7.45pm
Follow this link for tickets: https://www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/whats-on/other/the-funeral-director/
The Naz and Matt foundation is a charity that can help anyone affected by issues discussed in the play: