Writer of The Real Ones | Meet Waleed Akhtar

Next up in our main house is the world-premiere of The Real Ones, a funny and honest love letter to platonic soulmates.

You might be familiar with him, but here’s everything you need to know about the returning Bush writer, Waleed Akhtar.

This is not Waleed’s first time at the Bush 

His play The P Word had its world premiere production here in 2022. The play charts the parallel lives of two gay Pakistani men; Zafar, fleeing homophobic persecution in Pakistan, and Londoner Billy, dealing with the complexities of being a brown gay man, particularly on the gay scene.

Waleed Akhtar and Esh Alladi in The P Word

It’s searing assessment of the UK’s hostile environment and resounding plea for compassion was universally acclaimed. In their five-star review, Time Out called it “Tremendous. Gorgeous. Devastating. Plays like this are rare.” The Guardian said it “bewitches with hope, romance and heart.

He’s also an actor – or more accurately, a self-described ‘multi-hyphenate’

Waleed didn’t just write The P Word, he also appeared in it as Billy alongside Esh Alladi as Zafar, with critics praising their “magnetic” (Pink News) performances.

After appearing in theatre productions up and down the country as well as, he says, “the holy trinity of television – Casualty, Holby City and Doctors“, Waleed took to writing. When we asked him about his transition from actor to actor-and-writer, Waleed said “Thank God for Michaela Cole and Phoebe Waller Bridge. I just got tired of being written about, the scarcity of interesting parts and though ‘fuck that’ and started creating.”

The P Word was a bit of a phenomenon…

The show rapidly sold out, was extended, and then sold out again, and then made all of our hearts sing once more when it followed in the footsteps of Bush shows Baby Reindeer and Old Bridge and won an Olivier Award! He ended his acceptance speech with a topical “If I wasn’t fasting, I would say eff the Tories.”

When we asked Waleed what the best things about that experience were, though, he said “One of the greatest things about The P Word was the audience. I’d love to have them come back and see this play as well – it touches on queer themes and perspectives that we don’t always see. I don’t think the relationship between a queer man and his straight female best friend is really explored and I wanted to give that some sort of depth.

He added; “I kind of write plays for the girls and the gays so, yeah, I’m keeping that up.

Waleed is back – and he’s back with another familiar face

The Real Ones is Waleed’s second commission from the Bush Theatre, and will be directed by Anthony Simpson-Pike, director of The P Word. The world premier production that reunites them opens in September, almost exactly 2 years after The P Word did!

Anthony Simpson-Pike in rehearsals for The P Word

Anthony Simpson-Pike also directed Lava, the award-winning debut play from writer of Shifters Benedict Lombe, and recently directed Samuel Takes a Break… at The Yard Theatre and the 30th anniversary revival of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing at Stratford East, a play that was born at the Bush in 1993.

The Real Ones has the feeling of a whirlwind romance, but not as you know it

Inspiration for the show struck when Waleed wanted the opportunity to talk about the great loves of his life and he realised how often they’re the platonic loves that we don’t tell stories about as often.

The play had been living in my head for a while,” says Waleed. “The play is about Neelam and Zaid and it charts their friendship like a grand romance. I think we often prioritise romantic loves but actually friendships are some of the greatest loves of my life.”

The Real Ones opens in the Holloway Theatre on 6 September 2024. 

Tickets start from £15 | Click here to find out more