“Sings with the integrity of a story that comes from the heart”
“Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George” – those immortal lines from Shakespeare’s Henry V – where the title character rouses his troops into the defence of what they hold dear. And what an apt title for this play – which sees a group of eight British Muslim school girls in East London attempt to mount a production of the bard’s classic saga, while defending their right to do so. Yes, this is a politically charged play.
In the opening scenes the group struggle with normal teenage girl problems of agreeing with each other and putting aside their petty quibbles to get the show performance-ready – all of which comes with the irreverent comedy young people so unashamedly excel at. The glimpses of ego and creative differences begin to tease out the individual characters in the company, though it’s a shame these aren’t developed further.
Then the bombshell drops. Letters are distributed to Muslim households in the neighbourhood, informing them all to prepare for the vicious ‘Punish a Muslim Day’. With the content of these letters taken directly from the abusive vitriol spewed during that fateful event just a few months ago, it’s a poignant and sobering moment to hear the threats read aloud and immediately responded to.
Naturally, the tension within the performance goes up several notches, as families start to keep the girls home from rehearsal, their personal safety is put at risk, and, of course, the performance date draws closer. What follows is a touching display of leadership and courage where the girls somehow find the strength to continue despite all the barriers. Not only is this production an example of a disenfranchised group of people overcoming a huge danger to stand up for who they are and their basic human right to exist, but also of young women banding together and putting aside their differences to achieve that end – so on both counts it is heartening and uplifting. It’s also performed with all the confidence and pride one would expect from the company who devised this show themselves, and it sings with the integrity of a story that comes from the heart.
Yes, the script is a little fudged and, at times, twee – the ending in particular lacks the killer punch to make it truly outstanding – and yes, subtlety and depth of acting is sometimes lacking, but considering the oldest of these girls is just 17, what they present is an impressive feat. This is a vital and urgent production that deserves to be developed further and toured widely. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we see of it.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 August)