He's meant to be rehearsing, but we've dragged Shah away from the studio for a quick chat about where theatre fits into his life and how he connects with his onstage alter ego, Richard. Shah stepped into Richard's shoes at the beginning of this year and since then has been making the character his own, bringing his trademark humour to the role
When did you first perform on stage?
"At the age of 3 or 4, trying to dance and wrecking my uncle's break dance performance which he wasn't too happy about! The first proper theatre performance with a considerable number of people watching, was back in 2007. I was playing Duke Felmet in DUET's (Duisburg University English Thespians) production of Wyrd Sisters. It was a ball rehearsing and performing that play. It is, like most of Sir Pratchett's work, fantastic and hilarious. I particularly enjoyed Felmet's increasing paranoia and madness. And when the premiere rolled around, just the feeling of performing in front of a hall full of people took my breath away."
If you could have dinner with an actor or director (living or dead) who would it be and what would you really like to ask them?
"Oh, that's a tough one, like seriously. Can we not please make this into a group buffet, and at best at a rehearsal place or a set? If I had to go with one, it'd be Sir Ian McKellen. But I really wouldn't want to be rude and leave out Sir Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Christopher Nolan, Mathew McConaughey, and Tom Hardy. Phew, it was still quite difficult restricting myself to 7 people, but I thought 7 is a lucky number so here you go. I would love to know their respective techniques but I do realise that depending on the role, the technique can be different and, to various degrees, intimate. Hence instead of asking them anything directly I would just hang out with them, at a buffet, happening at a rehearsal place or at a set."
In what ways do you think you're like the character of Richard in J'n'R?
"Underneath all the corny lines and posing Richard starts off with, he is able to make a real connection with Jules only when he opens up, when he let's himself be vulnerable. I'm all for those sort of relationships, romantic or not, where, in my belief, vulnerability plays a vital role.
There are differences as well though. For one thing, I've never been the biggest fan of Romeo and Juliet. And personality wise, I think, I'm more pragmatic than Richard and less of a "love at first sight" sort of person, well not anymore anyway."
What makes for a good scene partner?
"Apart from the obvious professionalism, loads of things, depending on the role. In a play like J'n'R, I'd say someone who isn't afraid to get a bit emotional. Who is willing and able to try out new things - which in turn keeps me on my toes - and doesn't let things become stale. Generally it's brilliant if it's someone I can trust and rely upon, it's a feeling thing, hard to put in words. Working with this team is great. Daniel and I have been friends for a long time and I trust his guidance. And rehearsing with Anna is fun because we are able to pick up on each other's verbal and physical cues, For me, in that moment the rest of the world sort of fades away. It's fulfilling."
How do you deal with nerves?
"Practice, practice, and did I say practice? Be it in the rehearsal setting or just going over lines by myself, practising the play by any means kinda calms me down."
What will audiences be thinking about after the show?
"How would I know that? Ok, let me answer it this way, if I were to watch this play as an audience member.. I would be thinking it's a very intelligent play, and not just in some wishy washy way. I mean the span of topics it touches is impressive, at the core of which are two people accidentally running into each other and leaving the scene knowing a lot more about themselves than they imagined could happen in that one hour. And I would of course be thinking about the end, but I shouldn't go too much into that here ..."
Last but not least, you grew up in Pakistan and you live in Germany. What's with the Irish accent??
"Hahahaha, well you know as they say first impressions count. My first impression of an Irishman was this dear friend of mine, Frank Dunne. Unfortunately, he isn't among us anymore, but if there was a person who could make friends faster than you could spell the word and always left you with a smile on your face, it was him, Frankie. So as you can see, he left quite an impression, and one of the things he infected me with was his "Dublish" accent, I loved it. Not to mention I simply like the brogue..I mean why not, brown guy, never lived in Ireland, with a slightly Irish accent, makes for an interesting story, doesn't it. For Richard, he could be from anywhere and there is no reason he couldn't be from Ireland, plus quoting Shakespeare with an Irish brogue is a lot of fun."