Does My Bomb Look Big in This? was born from actor Nyla Levy’s dissatisfaction with being typecast as a ‘jihadi bride’. It deals with teenager Yasmin’s (played by Levy) slow enticement into, what she thinks, is a hopeful new life for her with ISIS. There’s a meta aspect to the play, as it consciously acknowledges its theatrical form to put forward the story of Yasmin, and her best friend Aisha (Halema Hussain). The two play myriad characters, including their family members, and are joined by actor Eleanor Williams, who primarily plays Morgan, a school bully whose stereotyping of British-Asian Yasmin contributes to the growing vulnerability that causes her to eventually make the drastic choice to flee the country.
Levy’s writing is playful. The meta-narrative makes apparent the notion that the Playwright is taking ownership of media headline stereotypes. The play tackles many topics head on: the fragility of teenage ego, jealousy, and the unwavering loyalty within friendship. Yasmin’s backstory is unpicked meticulously, investigating a tricky homelife involving a sick parent, and the infidelity of the other. The play’s ingenuity lies in its mapping out of the milestones that conclude in the disaffection that pushes Yasmin to join other young women in ISIS, all in the name of a more hopeful reality. The narrative gently unfolds with the wit and the charm, and often the naivety, of youth.
Mingyu Lin’s direction balances the narrative clarity with the playfulness of Levy’s script. There are scenes, for example, based on Whatsapp conversations, addressing the sinister, unrelenting influence of peer pressure in group chats and, more to this, how far they are spaces to share things that you wouldn’t dare share ‘in real life’. Whilst maintaining this thoughtful question over how harmful this form of social media may be, further explored in the text-friendship between Yasmin and her ISIS contact who entices her to leave the country, the scenes manage to uphold a levity, personifying the application with the Williams narrating emojis and features of the app. The play is a blatant representation of the sinister ins-and-outs of teenage life, but it so cleverly avoids erasing the up-sides, too. The set design (with Moi Tran as Set Consultant), helps this clarity too. It is simple: school lockers line the back of the stage which are inventively moved around by the actors to create multiple settings. Minimal, but effective.
Does My Bomb Look Big in This’ text-speak and brutal abbreviations (i.e. ‘Pregbitch’ for Yasmin’s Dad’s new girlfriend) help to integrate the tropes and stereotypes of being ‘Generation Z’. It is an inventive, constantly shifting piece of theatre that takes the injustice of typecasting and reinvents them to tell its story. Levy’s work also weaves an awareness of its own form, and the hypocrisies rife in theatre, to bolster its point: ‘actor’s get so emosh, man’, states Yasmin, as Williams’, as ‘Actor 3’, tries to complain about the one-dimensional portrayal of her character, Morgan.
Tamasha, the theatre group supporting Levy’s play, continues to stage theatre that provides imaginative storytelling, and social commentary, in spades. DMBLBIS will sit in your thoughts for days.
Written by: Nyla Levy
Directed by: Mingyu Lin
Produced by: Tamasha
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Booking Link: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/does-my-bomb-look-big-in-this/
Booking until: 8 June 2019