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Khadija is 18, Finborough Theatre

Shamser Sinha
Directed by Tim Stark
★★★

Pros: A brilliant and haunting ending, great performances from the female actors in particular and a noble script attempting to raise the profile of refugees.

Cons: Often moments involving the male actors weren’t quite believable; dodgy accents in places didn’t help.

Our Verdict: A show of two halves. It took a while for us to suspend that pesky disbelief, but the ending was tremendous.

Courtesy of the Finborough Theatre

Khadija is 18 marks the full-length professional debut of writer Shamser Sinha. It’s billed as a story from the frontline of multi-cultural Britain, which it most certainly is. Sinha’s play explores the lives of two teenage refugee girls in London’s east end, and in doing so it raises the profile of the plight of refugees in the UK. However, as much as I want to be able to give this a brilliant write-up (if just for the fact that it is doing a truly noble thing by giving a voice to a seriously underrepresented issue), there were elements within the production itself that let it down slightly. And as always, we must be honest and focus on the theatre above the politics.

Khadija is a refugee from Afghanistan living in east London, and she doesn’t have a visa. As the clock counts down to her eighteenth birthday, the immigration officials get closer to deporting her back to her war-torn home country. But Khadija lives in the present, unlike her best friend Liza, another teenage refugee who has the added pressure of having to look after her baby sister. For an hour and twenty minutes the tension rises as the characters struggle to deal with challenges that nobody should be forced to go through, let alone teenagers.

Sinha’s writing is occasionally blunt, and in places the dialogue feels forced. In addition, I couldn’t help but feel that the story and the characters were a bit stereotyped, which perhaps contributed to the fact that it took me a long time to start to properly take note of what was happening. That being said, I eventually got there, and when I did the last twenty minutes or so were truly excellent; five-star quality theatre.

As always in the Finborough, the production values were never found wanting. Fly Davis’ design was simple but very effective in exacerbating the harsh realities that the characters faced, and Mark Dunne’s sound design helped give the London an excellent east London feel. The performances, however, were a mixed bag. Aysha Kala and Katherine Rose Morley, playing Khadija and Liza respectively, were excellent throughout. In places, Kala was a bit too loud for the intimate Finborough space, but the way in which her strength and self-assurance gave way to fear and desperation during the course of the play brought a tear to my eye, especially in that heart-wrenching final scene. Meanwhile Morely was wonderful as the more grounded Liza, and she pulled off a nearly flawless east European accent throughout. These two were the driving forces of the production, and the two characters that really brought Sinha’s writing to life.

The male actors were less convincing unfortunately. That’s not at all to say they were bad, but in places they just weren’t believable. Set against the backdrop of a very serious issue, they seemed a bit silly in places. Victor Alli was good as the kind-hearted Ade, but his east London accent continually let him down; it’s amazing how much of a distraction even the slightest slip up can cause. Damson Idris’ was good as the real east London lad Sam, but in places he was just too animated, which again led to me taking a little while longer to properly engage in the piece.

Khadija is 18 is a show of two halves. The first 30-minutes are fun to watch, but I was never really absorbed or engaged by it. However, as the show settles down and starts to build to its emotional climax, I began to hear rather than just listen, and I started to sit forward and pay attention. It’s a shame about the first half, but thanks to a wonderful ending, the message the Sinha wants us to leave with was firmly implanted in my head as I walked back out into a bitter London night.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Khadija is 18 runs at the Finborough Theatre until 24th November 2012.
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 or book online at http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2012/khadija-is-18.php

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