Posted: 18 December 2023

Artist Spotlight: Playwright, SAMI IBRAHIM

Sami won Theatre Uncut’s Political Playwriting Award for two Palestinians go dogging, which ran at the Royal Court in 2022 and was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre.

A Tamasha Playwrights alumnus, Sami has been a writer-in-residence at Shakespeare’s Globe – where he co-wrote Metamorphoses – and has been on attachment at the National Theatre Studio. His play Multiple Casualty Incident was recently shortlisted for the George Devine Award and will be performed at The Yard in 2024 while Metamorphoses recently transferred to the Seattle Rep in Washington. He is currently working on a handful of theatre commissions as well as developing a feature film with BBC Film and A24-backed company 2am.

How did you get into playwriting?

Originally I started out directing. I always wanted to make films but got to university and quickly realised it’s much easier (and cheaper) to put on a play. So I began directing plays and then – because I was naive – decided I could write one. I was lucky enough for the play I ended up writing to be put on at a new writing festival and, after that, I got the bug and never looked back.

What is the most challenging thing about being a creative freelancer and do you have any top-tips on how you deal with this?

I’m not quite sure I know where to start with this one! Generating work is always difficult, scheduling work, making the money add up, knowing when to say no to something – it can all feel precarious and it’s normally useful just to be up-front about that. Beyond that, I guess the only rule I’ve tried to follow is to trust my instincts as much as possible: there’s no right way of doing things but, at the very least, it feels important to really care for the projects I commit to and make sure I can do them justice.

Who were your creative inspirations growing up?

I think a lot my inspirations came from watching films. I was an annoying teenager who liked watching Stanley Kubrick films and then, the more I started to explore, the more I got excited by directors like Peter Greenaway and Claire Denis. I think I basically just wanted to be a film director and somehow got rerouted along the way into a being a playwright.

First memory of going to the theatre?

I’m pretty sure my mum took me to see The Wizard of Oz when I was a kid. And I think I have a really happy memory of watching the lion, the tin man, the scarecrow and Dorothy all dancing across the stage in a line. Although, having said that, I might just be getting confused with a memory of the film.

What was the last play you saw recently?

I saw Infinite Life last week and it was just wonderful – as usual with an Annie Baker play, it’s beautifully precise and heartfelt. I also saw Nathan Queely-Dennis’s Bullring Techno Makeout Jamz which was great fun and really moving.

Whats a mantra you live by that you could pass on to our readers?

This one feels a little tricky as I sometimes think these tips can be too vague to be of use or too specific to apply to other people. So perhaps my advice would always be: be skeptical, no one has all the answers. Or, failing that, there’s an Oscar Wilde quotation I’ve always liked which goes something like “life is too important to take it seriously”.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do what you do?

The obvious one is just to keep writing and writing. But the more I’ve worked, the more I’ve realised just how much has been based on trust and long-term relationships. I think, when I started out, I imagined there was some secret short-cut to becoming a playwright but, as I put myself out there, I realised that the only way to do it is to keep producing work, sending it out and building relationships with artists and theatres.

Whats coming up for Sami Ibrahim in 2024?

In April, I’ve got a play on at The Yard called Multiple Casualty Incident, directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart and designed by Rosie Elnile. We’ve just finished a workshop on it and it’s starting to take some sort of shape, which is exciting. Other than that, lots more writing.


Photo by Ali Wright