Ovalhouse, London (****)
As we settle, into a new era, at least in London, Ambreen Razia’s sparky solo show of the growing pains of a Muslim girl in suburbia couldn’t be more apt.Perceptions of your typical Muslim are likely to take a tumble with this slightly hair-raising ride through 16 year old Shaheeda’s world inhabited by a traditional Pakistani mother, her sister Aisha, best friends Tash and Leonie, various relatives and a no-good boy-friend, Aaron.
One of the delights of this Ovalhouse commission which sets off on a UK wide tour after its opening as part of a new consortium, Black Theatre Live, aimed at bringing more black and Asian the theatre to the touring circuit, is Razia’s own performing skills – energetic, mischievous, rebellious – one of a growing number of Asian female comedians. Her writing too carries laugh-out loud humour, mixed with quirky insight.
A day out by the sea at Brighton with friends prompts revealing responses when asked what they most like about it: from Tash, `Pssh , I don’t know…because it’s free? – whilst Leonie offers: `I don’t know, babe, but if you think about it thousands of people have lived without love but not one person has lived without water. Mad innit?’
The real achievement of Razia’s Diary story though is in charting the difficult road of the new, young bi-cultural generation, balancing Pakistani cultural inheritance with contemporary British life with the universal aspiration to explore a wider world than Hounslow.
Although it’s never mentioned, Shaheeda’s hopes, dreams and motivations could have lead her just as easily, just as plausibly to hook into a different resolution in Syria or Iraq.
Razia’s Diary, though, is strictly non-political, purely domestic and personal – a rich, portrait in word and gesture of today’s generation with its part-Caribbean, part-Asian influences – an account of outrageous behaviour, fractious bus-rides and traditional weddings highlighting how a vulnerable 16 year old can be seduced, in Shaheeda’s case by the poetry-spouting Aaron leaving her pregnant.
Rising directorial star, Sophie Moniram’s sharp production too ensures The Diary of a Hounslow Girl is accessible and entertaining and should be warmly welcomed in all parts of the country.
The Diary of a Hounslow Girl opened at Ovalhouse, May 4, 2016; and tours to June 18, 2016.
Review first published in Reviewsgate, May 2016