Rose Theatre Announces Cast For The Boy At The Back Of The Class

Rose Theatre and Children’s Theatre Partnership today announce full casting and further creative team for the world premiere stage adaptation of the multi award-winning and best-selling children’s book The Boy at the Back of the Class, based on the novel by Onjali Q. Raúf, adapted by Nick Ahad and directed by Monique ToukoThe Boy at the Back of the Classopens at the Rose on 3 February, playing until 22 February with Press Night on 8 February, and then tours until June. 

The full cast includes Priya Davdra (Mrs Khan / Mum), Sasha Desouza-Willock (Alexa), Megan Grech (Ensemble/Understudy), Abdul-Malik Janneh (Michael), Petra Joan-Athene (Josie), Joe McNamara (Brendan), Gordon Millar (Tom), Farshid Rokey (Ahmet), Adam Seridji (Ensemble/Understudy) and Zoe Zak (Clarissa).  

The creative team includes Monique Touko (Director), Lily Arnold (Set & Costume Designer), Ryan Day (Lighting Designer), Giles Thomas (Composer & Sound Designer), Kloé Dean (Movement Director), Sophie Parrott CDG (Casting Director), Maisie Carter (Fight Director)and Amy Crighton (Assistant Director).  

The Boy At The Back Of The Class
The Boy At The Back Of The Class

The Boy at the Back of the Class is a timely, humorous and heart-warming story about the power of kindness, engaging children and their families in discussions around refugee rights. Rose Theatre is proud to be collaborating with Children’s Touring Partnership to bring this story to the stage and partnering with a local charity, Refugee Action Kingston, to raise awareness about and funds to support refugees in our community throughout this production. 

Christopher Haydon, Artistic Director of Rose Theatre said: “I am beyond thrilled to be bringing Onjali Q Raúf’s remarkable story to the stage. I love its warmth and the way it combines an exciting adventure with such piercing emotional honesty about the plight facing refugees today. I’ve always felt passionately about the need to support refugees and advocate for their rights, and it is vital, for me, that all our work at the Rose has the values of inclusion and tolerance at heart.” 

Bassam Mahfouz, Executive Director of Refugee Action Kingston said: “I arrived in west London as a four-year old boy from war-torn Beirut. I was fortunate my journey here didn’t mimic Ahmet’s, but in many ways I saw parallels in his story ⁠— I once was the boy at the back of the class, who received so much love and support from many in my school and local community. But, I also experienced hatred, intolerance, and ignorance.  My experiences gave me the determination to create opportunities for others – that is what we do daily at Refugee Action Kingston.” 

The Boy At The Back Of The Class
The Boy At The Back Of The Class

Hedda Beeby, of Children’s Touring Partnership said: “If there is no theatre for younger audiences, there will be no theatre at all in years to come and it is vital to offer the opportunity to experience live performance from an early age. We are delighted to be working with the Rose Theatre to tell this life-affirming story. It’s about young people for young people.” 

There used to be an empty chair at the back of the class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it. He’s nine years old (just like me), but he’s very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets – not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite! 

After learning that he has fled his own war-torn country, Ahmet’s classmates have ‘The Greatest Idea in the World’ – a magnificent plan to reunite Ahmet with his family. An unexpected and often hilarious adventure follows, all topped off with a terrific twist. 

Told from a child’s perspective, balancing heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class highlights the power of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense and reminds us that everyone needs a place to call home. 

Winner of the Blue Peter Book Award 2019 

Winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019 

A lovely, warm-hearted celebration of courage and friendship.’ – Guardian 

This is a beautiful, open-hearted debut that should help children be the best they can be and realise the power of kindness.’ – Book Trust 

Age Guidance: 7+ 

The Boy At The Back Of The Class
The Boy At The Back Of The Class

CREATIVES BIOGRAPHIES  

Onjali Q. Raúf MBE is a bestselling children’s author and human rights activist. She is the founder and CEO of two NGO’s: Making Herstory, an organisation working to end all forms of domestic violence, abuse and trafficking crimes perpetrated against women and children; and O’s Refugee Aid Team, through which she mobilises aid convoys and funds to help refugees surviving across northern France and beyond. She is the author of The Boy at the Back of the Class (Orion Children’s Books, 2018), which won the 2019 Blue Peter Award and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, The Star Outside My Window (Orion Children’s Books, 2019), The Day We Met The Queen (World Book Day, 2020), The Night Bus Hero (Orion Children’s Books, 2020), The Great (Food) Bank Heist (Barrington Stoke, 2021), The Lion Above the Door (Orion Children’s Books, 2021), Hope on the Horizon (Wren & Rook, 2022), Where Magic Grows: Unique Tales of Wonder and Enchantment (Orion Children’s Books, 2023). Onjali is also a Patron of VIP Reading, Facefront Theatre, and NIA, and was listed as one of BBC’s 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2019. Raúf was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to literature and women’s rights.  

Nick Ahad (Adapter) is a multiple award-winning journalist, writer and broadcaster working across TV, theatre and radio. Plays include: Redcoats (National Tour 2019, Mikron Theatre Company), Glory (National Tour, 2019, Dukes Theatre, Red Ladder, Tamasha), Partition (2017, 2018, Leeds Playhouse/BBC Radio), The Chef Show (National Tour 2016, 2018, 2019, Ragged Edge Productions, Stage Performance of the Year Rural Touring Awards 2018, Best Live Performance Cumbria Life Culture Awards), Coming Home Together (BBC Radio Leeds), Muslamic Love Story (DepArts), Second Gen (DepArts), A Muslim, A Jew and A Christian Walk into A RoomMy Mum the RacistInner Voices (JB Shorts) and Nor Any Drop (Northern Tour Red Ladder/Peshkar); Muslamic Love Story (Theatre in the Mill, Bradford). 

Radio work includes four-part comedy Umbreen’s Junction for BBC Sounds, starring Reece Dinsdale and co-written and co-directed with Yasmeen Khan. He also wrote the opening episode of a five-episode audio drama produced by Claybody Theatre. 

He is currently under commission with Leeds Playhouse, Rifco Theatre Company and Northern Broadsides. 

His TV writing includes an episode of Better, a BBC primetime drama made by Sister Pictures, several episodes of Emmerdale and an original series developed by BBC Drama and Avatar Productions. He has an original series in development with SISTER Pictures and was the runner up in the Red Planet Prize in 2020. 

As a broadcaster he has presented hundreds of hours of live radio for the BBC and many on-camera events for arts organisations and festivals. Nick is an award-nominated broadcaster for BBC Radio Leeds where he has presented his own weekend shows since 2014. In November 2020 he joined the leading BBC Radio 4 arts programme Front Row as a presenter. Nick has appeared on BBC Breakfast as a cultural commentator and hosted dozens of live events for festivals and arts organisations. Former Arts Editor of the Yorkshire Post, he is currently the Yorkshire Post theatre correspondent/ chief critic and his feature writing has appeared in the Guardian and The Independent. He regularly reviews theatre for the Guardian. 

Monique Touko (Director) is a London-based multidisciplinary artist working in theatre, radio, TV and film. She was the recipient of the 2022 Stage Debut Award for Best Director. Her directing training includes Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme at Royal Exchange Manchester. At the Young Vic, her training has involved the Intro to Directing course led by Sacha Weres, Boris Karloff Trainee Assistant Directors Programme and the Jerwood Assistant Director Scheme. In 2022, Monique was selected to take part in the National Theatre’s annual Directing Course.  

Monique’s skill set includes facilitation, devising, international work, new writing, script reading, drama school shows and projects, training actors and working with young people. She is also part of The Ubunifu Space- A definitive guide to music and culture from the youth of Africa and the diaspora – the Ubunifu way. Monique is project manager for the Space and regular member of the UK reaction team on the YouTube channel which has a global following of 320K+ subscribers and over 50 million views. 

Theatre Credits: Days of Significance (Guildhall School of Music and Drama); School GirlsOr, The African Mean Girls Play (Lyric Hammersmith); We Need New Names (Fifth Word Theatre); Gone Too Far (Theatre Royal Stratford East); The Clinic (Almeida Theatre); Gloria (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland); Fair Play (Bush Theatre); Malindadzimu (Hampstead Theatre); Yerma (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts); Dance Nation (Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance); Blank (Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance); Blood Wedding (Young Vic); Rosmersholm (Duke of York Theatre); Richard II (Shakespeare’s Globe); This Might Not Be It (Bush Theatre); Cock (Chichester Festival Theatre); Noughts and Crosses (Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts); On the Exhale (Traverse Theatre); And I dreamt I was drowning (Talawa); Yellowman (Young Vic); Kanye The First (HighTide); ALT Showcase (Southwark Playhouse); The Place Where We Lived (HighTide); B!RTH Festival (Royal Exchange); Wishlist (Royal Exchange / Royal Court). TV & Film Credits: Bail (Franklyn Lane Film Productions). 

CAST BIOGRAPHIES 

Priya Davdra (Mrs Khan / Mum) is a British Indian actress based in London. Priya graduated from the International school of screen acting and since then has been cast in various television shows, short films, and voice over work. Her most recent credits include Queenie (Ch4), Count Abdullah (ITVX ), There will be soft rains (Short film) and Eastenders (BBC1) where she was a series regular. Her passion for acting grew when she had her first debut as the lead in the Telugu feature film ‘Naan Yaar’ which was released in Chennai cinemas in 2016. Priya is also a trained Bollywood/Commercial dancer and has performed abroad and around the UK on stages such as the 02 & Birmingham NEC. 

Sasha Desouza-Willock (Alexa). Theatre credits include: Disruption (Park Theatre); Open (National Theatre) and Jugantor. Television credits include: Industry (Bad Wolf/HBO); Deep Heat (Slam Films/ITV2); London Kills (Acorn TV/BBC1); Inside Man (Hartswood Films/BBC); The Main Part (Studio 72/iPlayer); Adult Material (Channel 4/Fifty Fathoms Productions) and Doctors (BBC). Film credits include: Fired (iDream Productions). 

Megan Grech (Ensemble/Understudy).Training:Guildford School of Acting. Recent theatre credits include: The Corn is Green (dir. Dominic Cooke, National Theatre); Othello (Union Theatre); Broken Biscuits (GEST) and Romeo and Juliet (This is my Theatre). Film and TV Credits: Tehran (dir. Arun Gopalan, Maddox Films); Ghosts (BBC); Oi’ Pussy! (BBC3). Commercials include: McDonald’s and DHL. Recent workshops: The House of Bernarda Alba (dir. Rebecca Frecknall, NT Studio) 

Abdul-Malik Janneh (Michael)graduated from Rose Bruford College in 2022. Since then, he has filmed short film Said in Passing, music video We’d Be Good, and commercials for StarbucksCurry’s and The Gym Group. He has just finished playing Father Glanville in Layered Reality’s The Gunpowder Plot

Petra Joan-Athene (Josie). Petra recently graduated from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Recent stage credits include: Princess and the Frog (Hull Truck Theatre); The Hare, the Moon and the River (Tidal Tales Collective). Credits whilst training include: EmiliaVanity FairEnemy of the PeopleAs You Like ItFollow the StarsThe Humans and Meet Me At Dawn

Joe McNamara (Brendan). Television Credits: Jeff in Call The Midwife S11 (BBC). Theatre Credits: Witness for the Prosecution (Eleanor Lloyd Productions / Rebecca Stafford Productions), Don Carlos (LAMDA), Othello (LAMDA), She Stoops To Conquer (LAMDA), and Uncle Vanya (LAMDA). Short Film Credits: 24 Hours (LAMDA). 

Gordon Millar (Tom). Training: BA Hons in Physical Theatre, East 15 Acting School. Theatre Credits include: Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (West End); M.E.H (The Outbound Project); FAQ (New Wolsey Theatre); 12 Million Volts (The Outbound Project); Goosebumps! (The Vaults); The Snow Queen (Z- Arts); The Tempest (Theatre Ark); Boy in At The Inland Sea (Big Brum Theatre Company). Voice Over: Neville Longbottom & Fred Weasley in A Journey To Hogwarts (Pottermore); Where the StreetEnds (SAE). Workshops: Stranger Things: The First ShadowHarry Potter & The Cursed Child

Farshid Rokey (Ahmet). Theatre Includes: He Said, She Said (Kiln Theatre/Synergy Theatre); The Boy With Two Hearts (National Theatre/Wales Millennium Centre); Flight (Bridge Theatre); Elephant (Birmingham Rep); The Jungle (St Ann’s Warehouse, New York); Goats (Royal Court); Asylum (Tamasha Theatre); 10,000 Smarties (Three Streets/Oxford Old Fire Station); Another World (National Theatre); Martyr (Bristol Old Vic/Traverse Theatre/Unicorn Theatre); Love Your Soldiers (Crucible, Sheffield); Star Crossed (Bush Theatre); The Kite Runner (Nottingham Playhouse/ Liverpool Playhouse); Mogadishu (Lyric Hammersmith/Royal Exchange Manchester/UK Tour). 

Adam Seridji (Ensemble/Understudy).Adam Seridji is an actor and spoken word artist born and raised in South London. He has trained with the Battersea Arts Centre, Old Vic, National Youth Theatre and Theatre Peckham where he was part of the REP company in 2021. His TV credits are two episodes of Casualty (BBC). Theatre credits include CARE (Theatre Peckham), ONE WAY OUT (Theatre Peckham and Edinburgh Finge). 

Zoe Zak (Clarissa).Zoe graduated from LAMDA in 2023. Credits include: The Devil’s Hour (Amazon Studios); Doctors (BBC); REP (Brixton House); Soldier On (UK Tour, The Other Palace & Canadian Stage, Toronto; Foxfinder (Edinburgh Fringe); Pinch Punch (Old Vic, Rehearsed Reading); Street Scene (Young Vic/The Opera Group). Whilst at LAMDA, Zoe was a finalist in the BBC Carleton Hobbs Radio competition, receiving a special commendation from the panel. Productions included The Suicide (Dir. Oliver Dawe); Mosquitoes (Dir. Sara Aniqah Malik); Pomona (Dir. Emma Baggott) and Twelfth Night (Dir. Sophie Russell). 

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Theater Martin Cid Magazine
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