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Abdul Shayek remembered: Theatre has lost a shining star who had so much more to give…

Abdul Shayek remembered: Theatre has lost a shining star who had so much more to give…

Moving tributes – reacting to the sudden and very sad passing of theatre director Adbul Shayek…

THERE has been a huge outpouring of emotion and grief since Tara Theatre announced on August 2 that its artistic director and joint CEO since 2020, Abdul Shayek, had died unexpectedly of natural causes. He was 39.

Shayek was seen as one of the leading lights of his generation and was a passionate advocate for a theatre that was inclusive, challenging and forward-looking.

Many already felt he had made an impact and were excited by his energy and ability as a cultural leader and his sudden passing drew tributes from many quarters and from a huge variety of creatives who worked with him or were familiar with – and champions of – his work.

Abdul Shayek
pic: ‘Silence‘ (Donmar Warehouse/©Manuel Harlan)

He grew up in east London and graduated with a BA in International Theatre Studies from the University of East London and trained at the National Theatres Directors’ Course, Live and Direct and also at Old Vic New Voices, and the ATC Directors’ programme.

He was previously associate and then assistant director at the Theatre Royal Stratford East (TRSE), English National Opera and The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry and worked alongside such figures as Emma Rice, John McGrath and Dawn Reid.

Tara Theatre itself posted on Twitter, now known as X, on August 7 that it was “touched by the outpouring of love and admiration for Abdul during this past week”.

It announced that it was closing until “early September whilst we take some time to reflect”.

Sunita Pandya, chair of the board at Tara, lamented: “Abdul Shayek was not only a creative visionary but was one of the most passionate, vibrant and inspiring people I had the privilege of knowing and working with.

“The sector has lost a shining star who had so much more to offer the industry and the world. I just wish he had more time with us.” covered his arrival at Tara Theatre and his touching and now even more poignant local walking tour drama ‘Final Farewell’, written by Sudha Bhuchar and directed by Shayek. It was among the theatre’s early work, following the easing of Lockdown restrictions. It covered the mostly forgotten stories of local characters who had passed away from covid or from its unnoticed consequences.

Abdul Shayek and Sudha Bhuchar for ‘Final Farewell‘ (observing social distancing rules at the time) pic: Harry Elletson

Bhuchar said: “Devastated at this tragic news about the loss of our dear Abdul Shayek.

“When Abdul invited me to collaborate with him on #FinalFarewell, we were trusted to be custodians of people’s grief and loss. That work and all Abdul’s collaborations came from the heart.

“We have lost a younger brother whose passion, fire and urgency for change fuelled him. He took a whole cohort of artists & communities on the journey, demanding change NOW. Time was of the essence. Not in my wildest imagination could I have envisaged this ‘Final Farewell‘.

“My heart goes out to Nicole and his girls, his siblings and family and his Tara family who are bereft at this huge loss.”

Shayek helped to found international theatre company, Fio in Cardiff, Wales and they were also moved to pay tribute to his work.

“The work that Abdul has done as a director and leader to further representation and support for Global Majority artists in theatre, both at Fio and Tara Theatre, will continue to be felt for years to come and is a legacy to be proud of. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones and our friends at Tara Theatre.”

Among the many moving personal tributes was this from Natasha Kathi-Chandra, associate director at Tara Theatre.

In one post on X made up of one picture text and three pictures (one above) of Shayek and herself, she remembers her walks back to Earlsfield train station – almost opposite the theatre – with him, after a day at Tara and how Shayek would not stop talking and continued to talk and walk, not realising he had arrived on the platform.

Kathi-Chandra vowed to “keep going” and would not “stop” in tribute to Shayek. (See X link below in full).

“To my captain, mentor, comrade-in-arms, confidant…my friend…Rest. Rest dear Abdul. Rest.

And I’ll tell you all about it, when I see you again.”

Kavita Puri, whose ‘Silence’ Shayek directed and helped to adapt from a radio documentary and book about personal Partition stories into a hit West End show at the Donmar Warehouse in London, remarked: “This is devastating. My heart goes out to Abdul’s wife and young daughters and his work family at Tara.

Abdul Shayek (library)

“This is such a loss – for our creative world, and the work he was yet to make. Thank you Abdul for all the care you took with ‘Silence’, I was so lucky it was in your hands”.

Bhasker Patel, who was one of the stars of ‘Silence’ commented on acv’s Instagram post about Shayek’s sudden passing.

“Loved his tremendous energy with full of inspiring ideas. Always smiling. A great loss to our community and to the arts in general. Will be very much missed.”

The Donmar itself issued a statement on X: “We’re devastated at the loss of the brilliant Abdul Shayek.

“He was a hugely creative, kind, inspiring person. We were so fortunate to co-produce his wonderful production of ‘Silence’ last year with @TaraTheatre. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and everyone at Tara.”

Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre, paid tribute.

“It is with great sorrow and deep shock that we learnt of Abdul’s tragic passing. It is a huge loss to our theatre work and all our thoughts go to his family, and the team at Tara. Abdul’s craft, his positivity and his progressive thinking – both creatively and culturally – about the value and resonance of theatre was a beacon for our collective future.

“We have lost one of the brightest figures in our industry, and we mourn him deeply.”

Milli Bhatia, associate director of The Royal Court Theatre in London, posted to X: “Devastating news. I had the pleasure of working with Abdul several times and he did so much for South Asian artists in a such a short time at Tara, what a legacy. A fearless leader, and a good friend. My love to Nicole and his family and all at Tara.”

Several creatives who worked with him also recalled his skills and theatre craft.

Writer and actor Asif Khan remembered Shayek’s work on his ‘The Monster Inside’ about an NHS doctor who has mental health issues and based on a cousin’s of Khan’s. Written originally as a monologue, Shayek brought two actors to the piece at Tara.

Khan reflected: “Abdul brought so much more to the piece than I ever expected and I felt incredibly proud.

Abdul Shayek (library file)

“I thanked him after and found myself filling up, as I was so grateful for his vision. Obviously, also helped by stunning performances from Nicholas Khan & Moe El-Bar!”

Playwright Shahid Iqbal Khan remembered his last meeting with Shayek.

“My last memory of Abdul is us walking down Uxbridge Road (The Bush Theatre is on this road), laughing, chatting, reflecting on ‘Silence’, and how moving it was to witness these stories.”

Actor Zainab Hasan was another who felt Shayek brought something different and magical to the theatre.

Shayek’s engagement in theatre started through work experience and at his school in East London; he wasn’t much excited by doing it at a vet or some such similar environment; instead, he walked into the Theatre Royal Stratford East and asked for work experience.

Hasan commented the day after: “Completely blindsided by this devastating news yesterday. It made me cry.

“Abdul was a real one! He was one of us! A fellow Working Class South Asian – a rare thing in our unforgiving industry – who genuinely cared. Cared about giving unheard voices a platform.”

Preeya Kalidas, actor and presenter voiced her sadness.

“Shocked to hear the news about Abdul, we had been in touch only a few weeks ago – sending love to Abdul’s family. Life is truly precious be passionate about the things you want to do – Abdul was just that.”

Writer Vinay Patel who has written for both stage and screen, said: “Utterly miserable news. Abdul was a dedicated man building great things at a theatre that centres South Asian life and is very close to my heart. All the love to his young family. Awful.”

The Michael Grandage Company, which represented Shayek, also announced its sadness.

“MGC is enormously sad to announce the death of our client, director Abdul Shayek, aged only 39.

We send our deepest condolences to his family, his colleagues at Tara Theatre and to his friends and collaborators across the Arts community.”

Kerry Kyriacos Michael MBE, who knew him first at TRSE, wrote: “This is heartbreaking news. Abdul was a leading light of the next generation of cultural leaders.

“Fiercely focused and committed to a more diverse & inclusive theatre sector, he is going to leave a huge hole in the arts landscape. He will be deeply missed by so many of us. RIPx”

There were also tributes from Freedom Theatre which hosted a fundraising and solidarity event at Tara on July 25 and did so with the help and guidance of Shayek. The Freedom Theatre is based in Jenin Refugee Camp and is home to thousands displaced in Palestine. On X it paid tribute and said Shayek showed “compassion” and was “an ally in our moment of need” and was “forever grateful”.

Devashree Pande, Tara Theatre general manager, said: “Still struggling to find the words, Stunned by the devasting loss of a loving friend, supportive colleague and an inspiring leader. Heartbroken for his beautiful family, our Tara family, and for everyone who knew and loved him. Rest easy, Abdul.”

Shayek leaves behind his partner, Nicole and their two daughters – one a teenager and the other under five.

Abdul Shayek, theatre director, March 3 1984-August 1 2023

Main picture: Courtesy of Tara Theatre/Harry Elletson

Tara Theatre – On X –
Natasha Kathi-Chandra tribute post –

Abdul Shayek – passing announced (August 2) –

Silence –

Abdul Shayek appointment interview –

Final Farewell –

Abdul Shayek (acv) scroll down for stories not linked above –

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture