How does a teenager fit into a multicultural London and remain a good Muslim? Can the two identities ever meet or do their juxtapositions keep them apart? How can the generational gap, exasperated by the rise of social media, be dealt with? This powerful new play from Ovalhouse explores these questions, as well as many other topics, in an at times light, often intimate and always interesting way.
The Diary of a Hounslow Girl tells the story of Shaheeda, a 16 year old Muslim girl from Hounslow. Over the course of an hour and a half this one-woman show covers first love, traditional Muslim weddings, embarrassing relatives, and the generational disconnect that immigration can foster. At its core the play focuses on Shaheeda's fractured relationship with her mother, and the impact this has on other aspects of her life.
Hounslow Girl benefits from a fast, witty script and a committed, likeable performance from its lead. Ambreen Razia, who makes her writing debut, skilfully taps into the life of a London teenager whilst never closing out the audience. Her play finds its power when it explores the importance of a hijab in Muslim culture, even for our headstrong protagonist. The piece stands out because it is more interested in the elements of Islam that do not get a fair hearing. The nuances of an entire religion can often be simplified to a few, rarely positive, images and this play moves away from this and it is refreshing for doing so.
Nyla Levy, who replaces Razia for the tour, traverses the script well, comfortable in both the lighter moments as well as the more dramatic ones. As warmly written as the play is, it is down to Levy to keep the energy and momentum of the production up, which she is more then capable of doing. She moves between Shaheeda and impressions of her family at a fast speed, never dropping the rhythm of the piece and she really helps to make this production so enjoyable to watch.
Petra Hjortsberg's set uses the intimate space of the Old Fire Station exceptionally well, allowing a snapshot into the room of our lead. It also allows for creative use of lighting throughout the production, and is a wonderfully simple yet intricate set for this touring production. On a technical level the piece is outstanding and if there is a flaw to it, it's that the play is very slightly too long but this is a minor detail in an otherwise great production.
In dedicating her play Razia states that 'back in school I was surrounded by beautiful, confident, streetwise hijab wearing Muslim teenagers who often led double lives.' Where The Diary of a Hounslow Girl stands out is in its representation of this double life. It is a powerful snapshot of a topic that can often be negatively stereotyped. The play is a powerful drama but is also light and funny, with a likeable and engaging lead performance from Levy. She does the Hounslow girls proud.