Breakfast Plays: Youthquake:
The Things I Would Tell You (By Some Young British Muslim Women) & Lurker
Traverse Theatre, v15
09.00 (ends 26 August, not 20)
***** (5 stars)
I’m really glad I saw this pair of this year’s Traverse Breakfast plays last in the series: the others were good, these were both superb! Sabrina Mahfouz’s response to the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of 2017, youthquake [a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people, The Things I Would Tell You (By Some Young British Muslim Women) made me want to sit down with the women whose voices we heard and engage them in lengthy conversations… It’s a great pity this isn’t possible – but it is possible to hear these and other young women’s voices in the book Sabrina edited – The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write (published by Saqi Books) – from which this play’s words were taken.
Neshla Caplan’s Elina began with a mesmerising string of words from an amnesiac mermaid, musing on identity, asking herself who she is but reiterating who do you want me to be?. She then stepped out of character to reveal her ‘plan B’ for the show: inviting two other cutting-edge young British Muslim women activists to engage with her in conversation and suggesting that we would learn more from listening to, even if only half-understanding, a conversation between the three of them – and it inspired me to want to hear so much more. Elina, Yasmin and Fatima [Houda Echouafni and Serena Manteghi] spoke of their experience – of being at school, of being Woman, of being in New York at the time of the Brexit referendum. It was a huge privilege to be invited to listen to people whose voices are so rarely heard with real attention that it is little wonder they are often on the verge of explosion… What the world needs now is conversations between people from whom we differ [in whatever way] where there is real listening on both sides, rather than lip service being paid with no real attention or intention of actually listening to what people are saying – trying to make people be who we think they should be, rather than who they really are.
Natalie Mackinnon is the third new writer to have her play made part of this series, and on this showing she has a great future in front of her as a playwright. We were immediately drawn into Anya’s intense interest in what she calls “The Verity Project” – solving the mystery of the sudden and total disappearance from the virtual world of Verity, a young woman in her early twenties who suddenly stopped vlogging last year after having been on line in some form or another since she was eleven. Verity had a huge following, possibly because she has no boundaries between herself and her video persona, and her very openness is her appeal: how can she have disappeared so suddenly and so completely without at the same time deleting all her existing posts? Anya becomes increasingly obsessed with the Verity Project and in her extensive internet searches reveals to us just how much it is possible to find out about people who are active on social media. She fails to realise that this can work both ways and the hunter/ researcher in their turn can become someone else’s quarry… It’s a gripping story, superbly brought to life by Neshla Caplan, with Alasdair Hankinson making a brief appearance as her concerned [but not that concerned] partner who said all the right things but was really desperate to get to work, leaving Anya alone and about to do…what????
Both plays were gripping. The first gives a voice to a rarely-heard group of young women, the latter a chilling insight into the perils inherent in social media. The show
was, like the other two, a virtual sell-out – so haste ye down to the Traverse if you want to kick-start your day with some seriously thought-provoking drama.