Raw, real, and frighteningly relevant, Asif Khan’s debut full-length play Combustion makes you furious. You’re reminded that the unspeakable things that the newspaper headlines allude to, and at times articulate, are perspectives that some people live their lives by. The arguments we hear all the time, and dismiss either as rantings and prejudices of the other are thrown between the characters and at us. And if our usual reaction to these is to either fight back (often to little result) or walk off, here we have no choice but to engage – often uncomfortably, often silently applauding, and many a times, whilst laughing out loud.
Racism, islamophobia, gender norms, xenophobia, sexism, child abuse – Asif Khan doesn’t shy away. The play unfolds at a car garage run by Shaz (Beruce Khan), where two other British Pakistanis – Ali (Rez Kempton), and Faisal (Mitesh Soni) work. There’s an EDL protest taking place against the child grooming scandal involving British Asian men, and it’s likely to turn violent. Shaz’s younger sister and two colleagues are keen to go witness it, but Shaz, a hard-working self-made man who wants an uncomplicated professional and personal life, isn’t having it.
The scenes between the three young men are heavy with issues, but fun too. There’s banter and conflict, and all three characters are well-acted – their emotional and intellectual struggle evident. The set – steel tables that turn into cars, a hospital, a protest site – sat beautifully in the industrial style set at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston where I saw the play.
The character of possessive older brother Shaz’s hijab-wearing feminist activist sister Samina (Shireen Farkhoy) is well developed and nuanced. She befriends EDL supporter Andy (played hauntingly well by Nigel Hastings), who in their first meeting, hurled abuse at Samina, Ali, and Faisal. Some of their scenes together are the loveliest to watch.
As a Muslim, I’ve heard the arguments thrown by Andy at Samina countless times. Why, if child marriage is not encouraged in Islam, did the Prophet Muhammad marry someone so young? Why does the Quran talk about jihad? What’s the role of women in Islam?
Same shit-burger, different bun.
What we don’t get to hear as often in the mainstream, however, are the answers. Or a problematising of the questions themselves, and the world views from which they germinate. This production, small in scale, but big in heart, has a good go.
The production has moved onto RADA for two nights, before travelling to Bradford. Here are details.
When: Thursday 29 June 2017, 7pm & Friday 30 June 2017, 2pm
Where: Gielgud Theatre, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), 62-64 Gower Street, London WC1E 6ED
Tickets: £10 (concessions available)
More info and to book: RADA
By Nadia Rahman.
Posted 28 July 2017
Photos courtesy Arcola Theatre