Set in a bedroom in North London, writer and performer Laila Latifa delivers a high-energy and hilarious one-woman show that respectfully and sensitively approaches the subjects of identity crises, eating disorders and honour killings. This is probably my favourite one-woman show of all time, it’s witty, honest, funny, despairing and unflinchingly feminist. Framed as a one-sided conversation with her understanding middle-class white boyfriend, you often forget the reason of how we got here because this world that Latifa has conjured is that well-crafted and brilliantly executed.
Being a Muslim working-class Londoner like Manal, very few of the cultural references went by unnoticed. Early on she sets the scene and I love how London it is; she talks about the kinds of girls who hang around in Hamstead Heath and her middle-class friend claiming to understand poverty because she is from Hackney. Her slang is London, her attitude to sex and oversharing is London, her casual references to being skint, eating disorders and being murdered is very, very London. The feminist autobiographical tradition has so far been reserved for the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Lucy McCormick. Watching this play and how hard I’m laughing at all of it, I realise that I’ve been starved of feminist, working-class theatre.
It’s currently Ramadan and so when Latifa looks me straight in the eye as I sit there with a large glass of red wine, I really feel it. I’m awash with the same religious trauma Manal speaks of. “Alcohol is bad, smoking is bad, talking to men is bad, talking to the male members of your family is bad, showing your ankles is bad, being sad is bad, being happy is bad, bad bad bad”. This is followed by the guzzling of Echo Falls. She talks about the threat of being “shipped back” and flippantly talks about how her father will “murder me or hurt me” if he found out about her white boyfriend. Latifa takes me back to my teenage and university years with her obsession with Twilight and the overrated Sally Rooney as a ticket to middle-class coolness. It’s delightfully confessional and empowering as she reads out deeply personal entries from her diary that end randomly with things like, “I think I’m a vampire”.
But this isn’t a Muslim-bashing play, you might think it was given the clickbait description. Many Western liberal feminists would love to lament over the plight of Third World Woman (Mohanty) in Islam, but it’s actually well meaning, well to do, liberal people like her white boyfriend and girlfriends that appear to be Latifa’s real target, why else would she dedicate it to Manel’s white boyfriend and not her father? Or perhaps it’s easier to speak to Manel’s white boyfriend than it is to confront her father. One of my favourite sections is the scene where Manel says she wants her family, despite the shit they put her through. This speaks to my non-Western upbringing which places family above else so this bit exploring the conflict of liberal individualism vs. the collectivism of Islamic and S.W.A.N.A cultures is where this play gets really interesting.
Laila Latifa is a performer and writer you want to keep eyes on, I suspect she’ll be going far, and I wouldn’t want to miss a single step of that journey. This short run ends soon so get booking now!
Written by Tasnim Siddiqa Amin.
Follow Tasnim on Instagram: @tasnimsiddiqaamin & WordPress.
RAH is currently showing until Saturday 8th April 2023 at the Hope Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…
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