Growing up with wildly differing parents, her mother a free-spirited Brit and her father a devout Muslim, Gemilla Shamruk often found herself pulled between two ideologies.

Her maternal family nurtured her artistic side, encouraging her to take to the stage from the age of five and go to festivals, while her paternal family from Palestine instilled in her a deep respect for the beliefs of Islam.

“I have lived half my life with my mum, who allows me to do what I want, and half with my dad, who has his restrictions,” explains Gemilla. “So in terms of temptation I have been around it all and done everything, but then rooted inside me I still have my Islamic beliefs.”

When the former Hazelwood Primary School pupil fell pregnant at 16 after leaving Broomfield School, not only did it put a pause on her plans to study drama but it also tested her relationship with her family.

“It was definitely a surprise,” says the 25-year-old, who is part of Chickenshed’s emerging writers season Write Here, Write Now, “but I was really determined to keep him even though everyone said it was not the best thing for me.”

She adds: “My dad didn’t talk to me for the whole of my pregnancy and it took us a long time to get back in contact because of the whole family shame thing, so I was affected by that.

“But at the same time I understand because I have been brought up in that environment, so while I was hurt I didn’t hold it against him because I knew that would be the reaction.”

The various strands of influence in her life converged into a spark of inspiration after a trip to Palestine for her cousin’s wedding when she heard stories of girls paying to have their virginity ‘replaced’ ahead of their weddings.

“It’s a totally different life out there;" explains Gemilla, "everything is sort of put in place for you and the girls are happy and want to get married and have children, but at the same time you have the thing of family shame and honour which is a lot stronger than over here. There, no-one could ever find out you had done something like that.”

Returning home Gemilla penned play It Happens, based around a young English Muslim woman who wants to be the ‘perfect Muslim’ but finds herself experimenting to try and fit in with her fiends.

“It’s not biased or anti how Muslims are brought up,” explains the Tottenham mum who starred in as the mother of a brown boy at Chickenshed last year.

“It shows the beauty of Islam but also that we are all human and all make mistakes and all give in to temptation and young girls, whether they are Muslim or not, still feel the same things and the same peer pressures.”

Although the play is not autobiographical Gemilla says it draws strongly on her own experiences.

“When I was younger I found it hard because as a teenager you must want to do everything and let loose.

“My Dad would be saying no and my mum would be saying yes and fighting against what my dad would say and I was split between the two.”

After having her son Gemilla reconciled with her Dad and joined Chickenshed aged 17 to do a Btec and then a foundation degree before joining the first year of its BA (hons) degree. She graduated three years ago and now works for the theatre company teaching other young people.

And she now appreciates both sides of her family equally.

“I have always been into performing and growing up in Palmers Green and Tottenham watched shows at Fox Theatre and was part of Hopeful Monsters. My mum is an artist, my great grandmother was a singer and my nan liked to dance, so I think it is probably in the blood.”

She adds: “My Dad and family are really religious but when they speak to me about certain things they don’t do it in a pushy way; you sort of understand and are told stories about the Koran and you see the beauty of their life.”

She wants her play to give people an insight into both sides: “I hope people take away an understanding of the normality of being a Muslim. We all go through the same things and are human. I haven’t gone too far, it’s not fanatically religious or anti-Muslim, it’s in the middle.

“Sort of where you are then?” I point out.

“Yes,” she exclaims, “that’s probably why I have written it.”


The other pieces in the Write Here, Write Now season are:

Plenty of Catfish by Alice Straker

Following an unlucky stint in love, Joyce joins a dating website, after being convinced by her best friend Toya, determined to find ‘the one’. But in the online world people fabricate many things including height, weight, income and possibly even who they truly are...

The Bartered Bride by Zdenka Prockova

Zeus may be the most ambitious and single-minded among the Olympian gods and is on the biggest career move of his life. He is persuading Hades, the god of the underworld, to support his claim for the position of the supreme god. To this end, Zeus will use anything (and anybody) at his disposal – including Demeter, his wife, the powerful goddess of harvest, and their daughter Persephone, goddess of spring. But can he get away with it?

To See a Familiar Smile by Paul Fricker

There are things in all our lives that are beyond our control, and for Ben and his family this is most definitely the case. Ben was born with cerebral palsy so he finds everyday things a struggle. To See a Familiar Smile explores the subject of family, love and the desire so much for success – “The hope is that people will listen to my story and not be afraid to tell theirs”.

Whispers by Daisy Watford

After a dog is heard barking on the local estate, rumours soon begin to escalate. Hysteria builds and with Jess only a few months away from giving birth, the pressure is on to protect her unborn child from this new enemy.

Chickenshed, Chase Side, Southgate, February 17 to 20. Details: 020 8292 9222,