Tuesday 13th September 2022 at Bush Theatre, London.
Reviewer: Maygan Forbes
When Zafar (played by Esh Alladi) flees his hometown and homophobic persecution, he seeks asylum in London. However, the process is draining and prejudiced, and having to “prove” you face execution if you are sent back to your native land gets harder as the system gets more and more unjust.
He meets Bilal (played by Walled Akhtar) who appears to have it all. A place to stay that isn’t monitored by a curfew, a good job, a family that remains indifferent to his sexuality, and a level of privilege that isn’t afforded to Zafar. As Zafar exclaims “I’m not in your Britain. I’m in another Britain”. Elegantly written and profoundly heart-breaking, there is a love story that happens, however this is not a love story.
From start to finish, I was captivated by the play. Bilal’s struggles with his body masks his internalised hate for the people that taunted him at school. He prefers to be called Billy as he does not want to associate with the origins of his name. The set (designed by Max Johns) showcases a spinning wheel at the heart of the action with a split down the middle. There is a divide with experiences, with perceptions, with ethics, however they move like passing ships in the night.
Whilst Zafar experiences a prejudice on one level, Bilal also experiences a prejudice either in his dating world or the microaggressions faced at work. The two experiences run parallel with one another, as both characters attempt to navigate this world as queer people of colour.
The choice of sound and the use of traditional Pakistani music (sound designer: Xana, composer: Niraj Chag) helps to ground the play and really draws the audience into the world on stage. It’s delightful and there’s an element of comfort and peace in scenes where both characters are bonding over Bollywood films and traditional cuisine.
The P Word was written by Waleed Akhtar, and he is a fantastic writer. There was a strong sense of worth and purpose at the heartbeat of the narrative; despite laws that work to put a pause on an individual’s human rights, humanity transcends this.
Both Alladi and Akhtar are wonderful actors, truly masters of their craft; they command the stage and draw the audience in with their trials and tribulations. But there is also humour amongst the pain and there is so much energy onstage. I left the theatre with questions of my own belonging and worth in this society and what can we do to make a positive impact to the livelihood of asylum seekers and anyone at the mercy of facing persecution for merely existing. Please please go and see this, it is a diamond of play and there is so much power amidst the performance.
The P Word plays Bush Theatre until October 22nd 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.
Images: Craig Fuller