In one sense of the word this is the least spectacular play I have seen for a long time. One young woman, Shaheeda, alone in her bedroom, rages against the personal crisis she faces. We hear interjections from nine other characters of both genders, but they are all voiced, very convincingly, by the actress we can see.
I once lived and worked in Hounslow but that was several decades ago, and I had never come across the phrase ‘a Hounslow girl’, which has, I learn, passed into common usage in recent years.
It is apparently a byword for confident, young Muslim women who are grappling with problems posed by a multi-faceted clash, which plays itself out within them, of traditional values, life in a western, non-Muslim city, and the fashions in attitudes, dress, gender relations, and so on and on, which confront them hour by hour, day by day.
I won’t give you any details on these. Any reader and playgoer who is young themselves, or has dealings people of that generation, will comprehend the elements in the situation that Shaheeda is grappling with.
They will also recognize the way in which Shaheeda’s attitude to her problems embraces both her developing maturity and her growing understanding that her mother has herself been through the problems she is now facing––and that it would not be helpful to herself or fair to her mother to take out her own anguish on someone who must be seeing Shaheeda’s problems as a mirror image of her own at an earlier stage in her life and is doing what she can to help.
This does not mean, that the two women will always be calm and composed. But throughout the play Shaheeda forces herself to recognize the need for calm and fights an internal battle to achieve it.
Thus the play helps us look finto the future to grasp Shaeeda’s dilemmas and how they will develop––and, we are allowed to hope––how she will rise above them. By complaining about her mother, Shaheeda has given herself and all of us, all that we need in order to understand and sympathize with the older generation against whom she has spent her time railing.
Much of this play is very funny, not least because the problems on show are not confined to Muslims, or indeed to any one group. Stress between generations is on of the many elements in human existence with which we all have to learn to deal. Young as she is, Shaheeda is maturing as we watch her.
This really is an evening in the theatre that people should not miss.