Where I Live and What I Live For
Rabiah Hussain's new 30-minute one woman play was commissioned by the UK’s only Shop Front Theatre - a former chippie in City Arcade, Coventry.
I nipped over last night to the independent creative hub that’s the UK’s only Shop Front Theatre for the opening of their newly commissioned short, razor sharp 30-minute post-Brexit monologue about Saleeha, a British Pakistani twentysomething, who moves from Bradford to London and the covert racism she experiences.
The Shop Front Theatre – a former chippie under a gym opposite Argos in City Arcade, Coventry – is a stone throw away from the infamous concrete jungle ring-road and across the road from Ikea. Inside is a friendly informal studio theatre, more akin to walking into someone’s cosy living room with comfy cushioned seats, and mini-bar serving gin, beers, tea and coffe with complimentary biscuits (Hob Nobs and chocolate cookies if you’re asking!).
Producer Julia Negus, who set up Theatre Absolute with playwright Chris O’Connell, apologises in advance for any noise from the running machines or boxing class above…But I can’t say I was distracted.
Rabiah Hussain’s intense bite-size Talking Heads-style monologue asks very current questions about identity, ethnicity, the subtleties of language, covert racism, the North-south divide, family and friendship. Saleeha’s story has you hooked from the word go.
Ever thought about the very British expression ‘Water off a duck’s back’ and what it means?
It’s one of the British expressions Saleeha’s father has collected and pinned up on Post It notes around the house so he can discover their meaning. His theory being that by learning the language and understanding the culture you try to fit in. Saleeha has grown up with a love of words and phrases.
Bright, down-to-earth and funny Saleeha moves from Bradford – famously the home of Zayn Malik – to London to start a new job. She’s befriended by Sarah and drawn into a new social circle leaving behind the friends she’s grown up with. There’s that sense of wanting to a fit in. At first, she’s so excited to be invited to join Sarah for lunch she leaves her homemade cheese and cucumber sandwich in the work fridge to go out and buys an £8 salad with her new friend – “£ 8 – that hurt!”
But a few months later Saleeha begins to question their friendship particularly when confronted at a bar by one of Sarah’s attractive male cohorts who assumes she doesn’t drink. “Saleeha’s Muslim but she’s different,” pipes up Sarah. Saleeha’s not quite sure what Sarah means by this. Does she let ‘water roll off a duck’s back? or confront the underlying issue?
This emotionally-charged half-hour piece looks at micro-aggression and throws open a dozen or more questions. Has there been a progression since the overt racism experienced by first-generation Pakistani families in the 1960s and 70s, or is it less tangible today?
Actor Raagni Sharma, herself a Londoner, is an engaging, vibrant performer who mastered the Bradford accent for the production, and plays the characters in Saleeha’s life with great conviction and vigour.
Where I Love and What I Live For is the third in a series of 9 new writing commissions by Theatre Absolute over two years posing the question: Are We Where We Are? Deftly directed by Justine Themen, Associate Director at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre, whose credits include Red Snapper with Cathy Tyson and Rise.
In a post-show Q&A writer Rabiah revealed that she grew up in East London and the play is based on real life incidents experienced by herself, family and friends.
Muddy Verdict: A short, sharp and thought-provoking 30-minute piece of new writing addressing ethnicity, careless language and the issue of microaggression in post-Brexit Britain. It’s not all serious – there’s lots of light-hearted moments too! Told with great verve by solo-performer Raagni Sharma.
Where I Live and What I Live For runs until Sat Oct 14 at Shop Front Theatre, Coventry, CV1 3HW, for tickets go to oxboffice.com or Tel 0845 680 1926. Wed – Sat evenings 7.30pm & Sat matinee 2pm.