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Theatre Review Home truths hit hard

KATHERINE M GRAHAM sees a challenging and timely play on the prejudice British-Pakistani Muslim women face

Spun
Arcola Theatre
London

RABIAH HUSSAIN'S debut play Spun unflinchingly details the systematic and unthinking micro-aggressions directed towards young working-class British-Pakistani Muslim women. In the process, she highlights the devastating effects these can have on their sense of self, their friendships and their attachments to their community.

Its protagonists are best friends Aisha and Safa, who’ve been to school and university together and supported each other through major life events. But now they’re going off to pastures new — Safa to work at a marketing firm and Aisha to work as a teaching assistant at their old school.

The new worlds they find themselves in and the pressure they experience as a result of the 7/7 bombings in London test them — do they need to be liked or to stand up to injustice and racism?

Khadija Raza’s simple but effective set indicates how the orbits of Safa and Aisha converge and separate as a result of those pressures and changes and what Hussain’s script does so well is to align the broader political narrative of the aftermath of that bomb attack with the personal stories of her protagonists.

To understand their lives and reactions to that event we have to understand the complicated ways in which they engage with their communities, whether that’s colleagues or families. This juxtaposition brilliantly demonstrates the reductive idiocy of so many implicitly and explicitly racist responses to working class British-Pakistani Muslim women. That Safa’s colleagues repeatedly pronounce her name wrong and that she feels unable to correct them is one galling moment among many.

Richard Speir’s direction keeps the show moving with a commendable pace but at times adds some physical sequences that are unnecessarily distracting from a script and performances that hold the attention so well.

Aasiya Shah as Aisha and Humaira Iqbal as Safa create a heartfelt friendship and both offer engaging portrayals of these women’s lives. Shah in particular offers a complicated and nuanced performance, weaving a wonderful portrait of a protective, grieving and politically thoughtful woman.

A powerful, challenging work.

Runs until July 28, box office: arcolathetare.com.

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