Penny Flood reviews a well meaning play that misses its target
Young "unaccompanied" seekers of asylum who are separated from their families are a hidden underclass about whom little is known.
They can be tragic and dispossessed, living on the fringes of society and buffeted by the whims of political convenience. But who cares? Perhaps more would if these people are given a long-overdue public voice, and the play Khadija is 18 at the Finborough is a step on the right direction.
Sadly, it doesn’t quite make it.
It’s the story of two 17 year old girls who have fled to the UK and are awaiting the outcome of their appeals to stay here. When they turn 18 they can be sent back with no appeal.
This first full-length production from writer Shamser Sinha is well meaning and worthwhile, but far too muddled and confusing to make its point strongly enough. This is disappointing as Sinha has worked among young refugees and so has a working knowledge of the complexities of the system. But we didn’t get a deep enough sense here of their past and present lives.
The two girls are Khadija (Aysha Kala) and Liza (Katherine Rose Morley), living in some sort of sheltered accommodation. Khadija is a young Muslim girl who had to flee from Afghanistan, where her mother was raped and her father decapitated. Yet in a very short time she is speaking fluent Estuary English, wearing trackies and skimpy tee-shirts and sleeping with her non-Muslim boyfriend.
Kala’s vivid performance brings her to vibrant and touching life, but her character is difficult to believe without more background.
On the other hand, her friend Liza – a refugee from an unnamed east European country – seems to have been in the country longer (although timescales aren’t clear). She’s still struggling with her English and has to attend language classes. She is trying to pass her baby sister off as her own child to help her stay in the country and get a council house. Her current situation is easier to understand, but again her background is not given much substance.
The girls are befriended by two teenage boys Ade (Victor Alli) and Sam (Damson Idris), and much of the play is about the relationships between the teenagers. The countdown to Khadija’s 18th birthday ticks like a time bomb behind what would otherwise be everyday urban teenage angst and joy. And it explodes dramatically at the end, but in a way that would have more impact if the characters had been fleshed out more earlier.
Key revelations about the girls come too late and too sketchily. They should have come up in the first part to make the whole thing more well-rounded. As it is, not enough is known about them to fully empathise with their plight, until the dramatic end.
The performance is not helped by a clumsy and pointless set consisting of two huge upright slabs and several boxes which have to be moved around by the cast every time there’s a time/scene change, which is often. That just gets in the way.
The performances of all four young actors are exemplary. They get full marks for doing this in the difficult context of this flawed production about an important issue.
Khadija is 18 is at the Finborough until November 24. Book tickets online or call the
24 Hour Box Office on 0844 847 1652.
November 8, 2012