Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy @ The Vaults

Wound Up Theatre’s Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy is a funny and dark show about an English soldier who is kept captive by an ISIS fighter. The timely piece explores the experiences of young people in modern Britain and how they are affected by economics, politics, religion, and just being young. With laugh-out-loud comedy and some very distressing truths, the show is a great watch and an engaging way to look at themes around disenfranchisement and radicalisation.


The play opens with a soldier tied up to a pole in the middle of an imagined cell. In walks in a black-clad young man, who is carrying a bottle of water and a small bread roll. The tied up man is Dean (Matthew Greenhough), the other man is an ISIS fighter who Dean calls Danny (Elliot Liburd), and it quickly becomes clear that Danny’s purpose is to kill Dean. The two obviously have different beliefs, but as they spend time together, it seems they have more in common than not. Their surroundings, however, dictate their story, and there really only is one way for that to go.

Written by Greenhough, who also performs as Dean, the show truly is a tragicomedy. The humour is weaved well into the text, and with each burst of humour, expertly performed by the duo on stage, there is equally an impactful element of harrowing truth. Greenhough’s Dean is warm and funny, and opposite him, Liburd’s Danny is a surprisingly likeable ISIS soldier. Jonny Kelly’s direction allows the duo to make the most of the open space in The Vaults, which is actually a perfect setting for the performance.


The humour of the piece derives from the trivial and relatively ‘normal’ discussions the two have with each other – about things like where they used to work as teenagers, ex-girlfriends, Northerners vs Londoners. They warm up to each other, and in different circumstances, it even appears like the two would be friends. But then in a split second Dean says the wrong thing, or Danny perceives a threat, and the mood suddenly changes to fear and terror. It’s this juxtaposition that is heartbreaking about the piece, and truly reflects the rising social tensions in British society.

The ending does go on for longer than it should, and because of this, it feels repetitive, but this is just a small detail that can be overlooked. The hilarious and equally heartbreaking Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy is a very well written and performed piece that tackles contemporary issues in a clever and brave way.

Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy is at The Vaults until 4th March. 


The B*easts @ Bush Theatre

The Bush Theatre’s new season has started off with a blast – Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers Are But Brothers was a brilliant and totally unique piece, and now their current show The B*easts is a compelling exploration of modern-day parenting and the sexualisation of children. Written and brilliantly performed by Monica Dolan, it is engaging and uncomfortably relevant to contemporary culture.

Therapist Tessa (Dolan) is working on a case about Karen, a mother who allowed her daughter Leila to have breast implants at aged 8. Tessa explains that the girl showed an interest in wanting breasts from 3 years old, constantly clutching at her mum’s fashion magazines, pointing at the women. As Leila grew up, her wish grew stronger, and finally, her mum decided to give her daughter what she wanted. When people found out, Leila was taken into care and her mother was arrested. Now it’s up to Tessa to asses Karen, but trying to figure out who is to blame for the sequence of events is not very black and white.


Photo: Alan Harris

The story is captivating, and with every dark new detail, you yearn for more, which Dolan delivers perfectly. Her performance is mesmerising, keeping the audience hooked on her every word. James Button’s design keeps her at the centre of the stage, the perfect position for the storyteller to maintain attention easily throughout the monologue, which feels completely effortless for Dolan.

There is no clear conclusion in the end, just the disturbing fact that even though the details in Dolan’s story are very extreme and heightened, we are heading towards a society where the extreme is becoming normal. The B*easts makes you question society’s obsession with policing women’s bodies, overly sexualising women, and how this actually affects children and young people. With a fantastic story full of sinister truths and dark humour, and an exceptional performance from Dolan, The B*easts is unmissable.

The B*easts is at the Bush Theatre until 3rd March.

Of Kith and Kin @ Bush Theatre

Written by Chris Thompson, Of Kith and Kin is a compelling piece of new writing exploring issues surrounding surrogacy and relationships. With elements of humour weaved into dark themes, and some genuinely terrific performances, the show is an engaging way to delve into a challenging subject.

Oliver (Joshua Silver) and Daniel (James Lance) are having a baby with the help of their surrogate Priya (Chetna Pandya). The couple is smitten with each other and excited for the arrival of their new baby. But when Daniel’s mum (Joanna Bacon) crashes their baby shower, Oliver isn’t pleased with their uninvited guest, the small problems in their relationship rise to the surface. And when Daniel becomes physical with Oliver, Priya starts to think differently about the couple, and their new baby.

Photo: Helen Murray

Lance commands the stage with ease, giving a very strong performance as the tenacious, and sometimes scary, Daniel. As his husband, Silver’s youthful Oliver is likeable at the start, but it quickly becomes apparent that he too has some dark and unpleasant traits. Both actors compliment each other well on stage.

Pandya’s Priya is sassy and sensitive and is heartbreaking to watch in the final scene. Donna Berlin as the judge is eloquent in her performance, but sometimes her lines feel awkward. This is especially apparent when she makes an uncomfortably placed joke, which feels slightly odd and uncharacteristic of an authority figure.


Photo: Helen Murray

Bacon stands out the most as Daniel’s mum Carrie and draws out genuine laughter from the audiences as soon as she opens her mouth. At times her character is cringe-worthy and obnoxious, but you can’t help but delight in how she bursts onto the stage. Bacon also doubles as Priya’s solicitor Joanna, a role that comes across as more articulate and composed than the hot-headed Carrie, but with an equally powerful presence on stage. She is a delight to watch.

Thompson’s own experiences as a social worker have undoubtedly affected the story, and the emotions evoked in his text feel very raw. With Robert Hastie’s direction, the play is brought to life with incredible energy, each scene slowly building up to a dynamic event. Full of unexpected turns and character traits that come as a surprise, Of Kith and Kin is an enjoyable play that shines a light on contemporary, real-life domestic issues, and the sacrifices people make for loved ones.

Of Kith and Kin is at the Bush Theatre 25th November.


The Host @ The Yard Theatre

Produced as part of the National Youth Theatre’s East End Season, The Host is a new play written by Nessah Muthy, tackling the refugee crisis, poverty and race. With its talented young cast, inspired writing, and dynamic direction from Zoe Lafferty, the show is a great example of how difficult subjects can be tackled with humour and emotion.

Yasmin’s (Rebekah Murrell) sisters are struggling to make ends meet – Natalie (Jesse Bateson) cant repay her loan, Hayley (Taylor Keegan) has been forced to take time off work, and Pearl (Isabella Verrico) has taken up three jobs just to pay the rent. For them the answer is simple: Yasmin needs to move back in with them. Just scraping by with two jobs of her own, she doesn’t think that’s a good idea, and when refugee Rabea (Zakaria Douglas-Zerouali) appears on the estate without a place to stay, things get complicated. Yasmin agrees to host him, but how can she agree to help a complete stranger when her own family is in despair?


Photo: Helen Maybanks

The urgency of the play is felt from the onset as the opening scene is a heated argument between sisters Yasmin and Natalie. The actors fire back and forth and each other, and it’s hard not to be immediately drawn in. Muthy’s writing is dynamic and fast-paced, but it never feels rushed. The ensemble is excellent on stage and they do complete justice to the text. In particular, it’s a pleasure to watch Murrell in action. She bursts on and off stage like a ball of energy and has glorious comic timing, yet it’s deeply moving to watch her in some of the stiller scenes.


Photo: Helen Maybanks

Lafferty’s direction leaves the performers exposed, and even when they’re not in a scene, they still appear in the view of the audience – observing the action, sometimes scrutinising the characters’ choices. We’re forced as an audience to always be aware of the other characters even if they’re not actively a part of the action, which emphasises the play’s themes of poverty and displacement. Although there is no conclusion that draws everything to a close, the ending is still satisfying. You’re expected to ponder and consider what has been presented, and hopefully continue the discussion elsewhere.

Muthy looks at race within one family and draws parallels between Rabea and Yasmin that help us consider ourselves in relation to others, those who are strangers and those in our families, and what it even means to be English. In an ocean of post-Brexit plays talking about race and immigration, The Host stands out with its exploration of otherness in a clever and nuanced way, and with a genuinely talented cast.


Aisha @ Hen and Chickens Theatre

Child marriage is still prevalent in the UK, putting thousands of young people at risk every year, so it is not surprising to see the subject explored on the stage. In his debut Aisha, writer and director AJ fuses spoken word influenced text with the difficult discussion of this practice to portray affects it can have on victims. The text is brutal and evocative, but at times the title character’s voice is drowned out, making the story hard to follow.

At 14, Aisha was forced to marry a man three times her age, fulfilling her parents’ wishes and their Muslim-Nigerian traditions. Now she’s 17, tortured daily by her “husband”, locked in her home, and made to cater to his every wish. She’s stopped caring about her life and is more concerned about her unborn baby’s, who gives her a glimmer of hope and the strength she needs to survive.

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The style in which AJ pens Aisha’s speech is poignant. His use of poetic language, a reference to the character’s childhood dream of becoming a writer, is Shakespeare-esque, setting her apart from the other characters. She quotes from her mini Oxford dictionary, rhythmically, like taking part in a spelling bee contest, another nod to her juvenile state. The opening is harrowing and will cause discomfort for anyone watching, as will some of the scenes involving Aisha’s physical torture. Performed by Laura Adebisi as Aisha – her stage debut – the opening speech gives a horrifyingly descriptive account of her rape. You will struggle to take your eyes off Adebisi’s strong performance. It’s apparent from the onset that this is about Aisha, and she will be telling her own story without others diluting her account.

As the play goes on, we are introduced to other characters: her stern and traditional mother (Sabrina Richmond); her husband and torturer (Ayo Oyelakin); his friend Mr White (Lloyd Morris); a blabbering doctor (Alexander Lincoln) who also functions as a some comedic relief. Yet as each character appears, the timeline of the play becomes confusing, altering the piece from being Aisha’s own linear story, to one about those around her. This removes her voice from the discussion, and consequently it is hard to continue to concentrate on what is happening.


The most frustrating moment comes in the form of a dialogue between Mr White and Aisha’s husband during a poker game. Mr White goes on a racist rant complaining about Muslims and praising Brexit, to which Aisha’s husband shrugs and agrees. AJ weaves religion and cultural traditions into the piece through Aisha’s parents’s background, and uses it as a way for their justification of her marriage, but even so, this short scene feels like an outlier within the play. The writer does not expand on the theme of religion, but only refers to it on occasion. AJ tries to draw parallels between religions by including the support worker’s background (a small role and composed performance by Olivia Valler-Feltham), who was groomed and raped by a priest when she was a child, but this comes across as a throwaway comment. It seems as though this is supposed to be an unexpected twist in the story, but its execution is underwhelming and flat. More could have been done to discuss abuses of power, whether in the hands of religion or tradition, which feels like it’s missing from this play, instead of leaving them in the background without expanding.

Aisha begins with an undeniably moving and strong performance by Adebisi, and stirring poetry by AJ. But over the course of an hour and a half, the point of the story is lost as the playwright desperately tries to create a profound comment on child abuse, instead of sharing the story of the incredible young survivor.

Aisha is at the Hen and Chicken’s Theatre until 24th June.


Sublime @ Tristan Bates Theatre

Focussing on the relationship between a brother and sister and their shady pasts as grifters, Sublime is a play about heists, shared history, and the strong bond between siblings. Writer Sarah Thomas starts off with an intriguing concept that explores the complicated partnership between the two main characters, but by the end the story creates more questions than answers, consequently producing an unsatisfying ending.

Sophie (Adele Oni) bursts back into her brother Sam’s (Michael Fatogun) life after disappearing for 2 years. Sam seems to be living a “normal” life – he has a steady job and a long-term girlfriend (Clara, played by Suzy Gill). But when Sophie says she needs his help to cover some debts she owes, Sam can’t say no, and is soon back to his old ways. As they carry out burglary jobs together, old feelings begin to appear, and the siblings are forced to confront questionable emotions.


Although performed by a cast of four, the play feels like a two-hander, especially in the first half as Sam and Sophie have very intimate scenes. Thomas’ intricate and evocative dialogue is engaging, and has a captivating rhythm that’s perfectly performed by Fatogun and Oni. Even though Fatogun is the stronger of the two performers, their immense chemistry on stage is undeniable, and an absolute delight to watch. Gill is a great Clara, whose middle-class antics provides laughs, and a very a stark character contrast to the siblings’ backgrounds. Sam and Sophie’s complicated relationship leaves so much intrigue and question that you’re desperate for the second half to begin to find more about them and their past.

Yet the second half lets the strong beginning down. When trying to conclude the play it feels as though Thomas struggles to fit all the information about the brilliant characters into a short space of time. Too much of the story is left unfinished for it to be a cohesive ending. Declan Cooke – who doubles as Clara’s dad and the owner of the bar Sublime, which Sam and Sophie plan to rob – is used as a devise to help tie loose ends, which feels like a bit of a cop-out. Thomas is a terrific writer, and the first half of the play shows this, yet the second part feels rushed and haphazard, which isn’t helped by some very gimmicky set-pieces – think Pulp Fiction briefcase-like elements – which look and feel awkward.

Thomas has created a group of interesting characters. A pair of siblings brought up by a man they call uncle who taught them to steal, and a father-daughter duo who don’t know much about each other. It’s a sad and fun story that looks at relationships and love. It explores how people cope with hard times and how some bonds can’t be broken, but also how some kinds of love can be destroying and fundamentally wrong. It’s just unfortunate that Sublime is let down by its second half. Throughout, Sam and Sophie’s characters allude to a big final heist, so naturally one is expected to appear at some point, but it just never comes, leaving you desperately yearning for one. A lack of an elaborate heist wouldn’t be so disappointing if the story provided satisfying a conclusion, but sadly it doesn’t.

Sublime is at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 8th April.


Acorn @ The Courtyard Theatre

In this hour long dark comedy, Maud Dromgoole displaces the mythical stories of Persephone and Eurydice into the present, using these characters to explore the roles of women in modern society. Even though it starts off slowly, the striking images that appear throughout Acorn allows the play to pick up momentum, making it an enjoyable piece.

The play follows Eurydice as she prepares for her wedding day, excited to spend the rest of her life with her new husband. At the same time, Persephone, a Doctor, goes from patient to patient, trying to improve her bedside manner, which she is told she lacks. It seems as though these two women are worlds apart, but slowly their stories begin to intertwine, and when a snake-bite brings the two together, death becomes their shared destiny.


The performance is hard to follow at first, even though Deli Segal as Persephone does her best in delivering the beginning monologue. But once the actors get into their stride, Dromgoole’s writing falls into place. Segal portrays the comedic elements of her character with strength, delivering her sarcasm brilliantly. Equally Lucy Pickles performs Eurydice’s humour with style, and it’s a joy to watch the two interact. Tatty Hennessy’s direction is fluid, which makes even the hard to understand scenes visually pleasing to watch. Additionally Tom Pearson’s projections combined with Matthew Strachan’s original score adds a sinister layer to the play, emphasising its ancient Greek influences.

In Greek mythology Persephone is the queen of the underworld, and the fact that she is presented as a doctor in the play is an unusual approach to the character, but a welcome one that challenges the concept of death. Dromgoole successfully manages to adapt the two women into a setting that makes them relatable, creating a very satsifying piece. Although it can be easy to lose track at times, the energy and imagery created by the performers makes Acorn worth your time.

Acorn is at The Courtyard Theatre until 29th October.