Looking back on this event, I remember a clever script from Hassan Abdulrazzak and a brave performance by Asif Khan, which together make this a highly polished solo show. At the time, though, this was not an easy watch; whilst it is part of a showcase from the Arab Arts Focus at the Fringe, two of the three characters performed by Khan personified cultural stereotypes which provoked in me an uncomfortable reaction of distaste.
Character one is an Arab in Palestine who hits on an English woman for sex, this being preferable to the two alternatives – a prostitute or marriage. Our man is interested in only one thing, and frankly explains his seduction. I found the character’s unapologetic sexism and sexual opportunism difficult to bear, although many in the audience were evidently able to enjoy it for its humour.
Character three was in my face, and I felt like my emotions were being deliberately manipulated. This time he’s a hoodied teenager in Bradford: the only thing between him and journeying to seek Jihadi glory overseas is his elderly grandad, who relies on his help to get to the mosque. He claims the newly opened shopping centre is designed to pacify him and other Muslim youth, who would otherwise be prone to radicalisation. For me this insightful commentary was powerful enough to show up all-powerful fear-mongering for its narrow-mindedness, if only I hadn’t been so confronted by the exaggerated youth before me.
Character two is not so recognisable – he has been imprisoned for suspected terrorist activity. Intending to write his great novel, our man faces accusations of compiling a terrorist manual. This piece is astute, and finally lets go of caricature to send up the laws which legitimate detention without charge under the Terrorism Act. It’s funny, although Said’s demand for audience participation – repeating lines after him – didn’t really work and wasn't necessary anyway; it’s not as though anyone in the audience could have lost focus on any of these compelling characters.
For all my own discomfort at times, I recommend this show, but warn potential attendees to go in expecting to be confronted. The show does not really provide any insight into ‘real’ Muslims, and may have missed a trick here.
Khan’s acting talent is indisputable – he almost literally became three very different characters, who all feature in a longer show acclaimed on its earlier run at Arcola Theatre in London. He was so convincing in each case that when I spotted him in the courtyard after the show, I could not guess who this man actually is, or what his accent might really be.