theatre review

From traditional Pakistani weddings to brawls on the night bus, a poignant production highlighting the challenges of young Muslim women growing up in London.

Words Helen Brown

The stage is set as the bedroom of a typical teenage girl growing up in present day London; the bed is made up messily, shoes are strewn around the floor and a suitcase is set out in anticipation, of what, the audience is yet unsure. Ambreen Razia, of BBC drama Murdered by my Father, runs on stage to an angsty soundtrack and explosive strobe lighting. She plays Shaheeda, a 16 year old British Muslim girl living with her mother in Hounslow. Shaheeda is agitated and nervous; something is clearly distressing her.

As the play unfolds, we discover Shaheeda’s story; her family set up, her secrets and the challenges posed by her life as a Hounslow Girl. We gather that she is about to run away, but it initially remains unclear from what or from who.

Razia is completely captivating. In a feat of excellence, she keeps the audience engaged for the full 90 minute running time with a performance that is full of emotion; it’s bold, funny at times and distressing at others. Her monologic script cleverly ties up the events that culminate in Shaheeda’s present day distress. The quality of Razia’s writing conveys her vast understanding of the topic and ensures that the performance, although inevitably slowing down after its frenzied start, doesn’t drag at all. Structured predominantly around Shaheeda’s difficulty in aligning her Pakistani heritage with the everyday pressures of life as a British adolescent, The Diary of A Hounslow Girl explores the relationship breakdown between parents and their teenages, first loves, heartbreak and the disintegration of high school friendships.

The Diary of a Hounslow Girl is a courageous and creative piece of immersive drama that directly breaks down the theatre’s fourth wall. Razia successfully manages to intersperse laugh-out-loud comedy with moments of harrowing intensity; a slapstick wedding scene falls not far behind the particularly poignant moment in which Shaheeda removes her Hijab, for example.  The Diary of a Hounslow Girl is an absorbing and ambitious piece that challenges stereotypes and expertly handles its increasingly relevant theme. A highly commendable piece of theatre.

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