It’s 1:30pm and at the Half Moon Theatre in London’s East End a rave is gearing up. There’s haze in the air as diverse groups of teenagers from local schools step excitedly into the semi-darkness, finding their own place to sit or stand. A DJ mixes 90s garage music with bhangra and hints of Bollywood, and there’s a thrilling sense of anticipation.
Whilst they chatter, awaiting the start, a single dorky schoolboy weaves through the crowd, taking in the atmosphere, talking to people and asking questions. This is Farhan (Omi Mantri), and he’s hesitantly bunked off to make it to the last ever daytimer – one of the daytime raves popular with young British Asians in the 80s and 90s – at the invitation of his cousin Sadiq (Ryan Rajan Mal). They’ve come to find a space where they can escape their worries through music and dance and on their own terms. It’s daytime because they might not be missed then, and their parents won’t find out what they’re up to. The rave is a subculture: a rebellion against societal rules where, as Sadiq says, you can “shake your soul by shaking your soles”.
Both Mantri and Rajan Mal are a hugely enjoyable watch, performing with great charisma and confidence as they deliver complex dialogue in impeccable, rhythmic spoken word verse: it’s visceral. Rajan Mal is bold but nuanced as the cocky Sadiq, taking us on a rollercoaster of emotions. We learn that even the most confident behaviours sometimes disguise deep insecurity. Mantri, as the younger Farhan, develops his character in measured crescendo, finally exploding, but then emerging with admirable maturity and self-knowledge.
The two very different characters interact seamlessly with the audience, immediately winning their attention as they mingle. They conjure the buzzing club vibe with fabulous panache, genial comedy and some top dance moves that have the spectators laughing loudly. Each persona is recognisable, capturing all the awkwardness, brashness and vulnerability of youth, and this enables them to subtly engage their audience with some really challenging issues.
It’s an exceptional piece of writing from Azan Ahmed. It combines humour, complex discussions and familiar life experiences with historical reference and crucial themes still important today. Daytime Deewane articulates them clearly and sympathetically, showing the daytimer as a place of release: a liberating device which generates vital wellbeing and honesty in a world of restriction and emotional suppression. Here kids can be themselves, even if that sometimes reveals difficult truths. Themes of cultural and family pressure, teens as young carers, displacement and even self-harm are raised within sixty minutes of liberating dance, and done so in an extraordinarily poised and moving way.
Chris Elwell’s direction is impressively dynamic, yet highly sensitive. Farhan and Sadiq use every inch of the space across multiple planes, exploring and owning it, whilst simultaneously making the audience active in the story and fusing them with their own British history. They don’t shy away from physical contact, which stretches from aggressive wrestling to beautifully synchronised dance (big shout out to Hamza Ali for the tremendous movement direction here). At times their relationship is heartrendingly poignant. It’s a remarkably balanced achievement to dig so deep into painful, traumatic subjects, but still have the audience leave brimming with good feeling and energy.
As the post-show schools’ chat began and questions were raised, I left the theatre grinning, exhilarated by superb performances, intricate and vibrant writing, and energised by the buoyant, pulsating beat. But I was also delighted at the sight of so many joyful teenagers who had just quietly been educated about a little bit of brown-skinned rebellion. Tell me again how theatre for children is the easy stuff…
Written by: Azan Ahmed
Directed by: Chris Elwell
Assistant Direction by: Maryam Shaharuddin.
Movement direction by: Hamza Ali
Design by: Maariyah Sharjil
Composition and Sound Design by: Somin Griffin-Dave
Daytime Deewane is written for ages 13+ and adults. The show plays at Half Moon Theatre until 15 November. Further information and bookings can be found here.
The show then tours until 2 December 2022, full tour dates can be found here.