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Blue Mist by Mohamed-Zain Dada at the Royal Court Theatre

Shisha lounges are, so Jihad (Omar Bynon) points out, “an alternative to pubs”, at least for some Muslims (there are, I suspect, Muslims who have never been in a shisha lounge and are unlikely to go into one any time soon, but that’s another play for another time). There have been occasions when a shisha lounge has been ordered by a local authority to close, though this is usually to do with fresh air and ventilation, as shisha involves smoking flavoured tobacco through a long water pipe. The one Jihad and his friends Asif (Salman Akhtar) and Rashid (Arian Nik) frequent, the Chunkyz Shisha Lounge, is all above board.

Blue Mist at Royal Court Upstairs. Photograph: Ali Wright
Blue Mist at Royal Court Upstairs. Photograph: Ali Wright

When Jihad wins an audio documentary competition, a talk radio station takes his initial idea of shining a light on shisha lounges and turns it into something very different. New to journalism, he is taken down a path by established radio producer Helen Matthews (also Akhtar) that he is uncomfortable with but also feels he must suffer in order to get a foot in the door. But – spoiler alert – he proverbially throws his two best friends under the bus as their words, in pre-recorded interviews, are spliced apart and taken out of context. The truth, as ever, does not get in the way of a ‘good story’, though the play and this production of it puts the blame on the radio station’s production team, who have manipulated Jihad as well as his friends.

Cue a sudden and dramatic rift between the trio, like something out of a reality television series, or a soap opera. The ramifications and wider consequences of the tell-all documentary are unsurprising and yet still astonishing when the details are revealed – having recently seen a very different show that was about how words can be so powerful they can destroy a person’s livelihood whether or not what was said was true, this play shows how people can rebuild after their lives are torn apart. Okay, so it’s hardly groundbreaking for a play to assert there’s always hope, but the show does well to portray already difficult lives made all the more complicated – avoidably.

Fairly brief as it is at ninety minutes, it could still have been shortened to about seventy-five, without losing too much of the sheer breadth of ground covered in a single act (it is, on paper, a two-act show but it’s presented here without an interval). Modified lyrics to ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ from Mary Poppins, complete with a dance routine, was momentarily entertaining but was also, frankly, weird, and I’m evidently not streetwise enough to be entirely au fait with some of the colloquialisms deployed by these mid-twentysomethings.

I liked the conversations into topics other than shisha, shisha lounges and documentaries about shisha lounges – anything from baggage handling at Heathrow Airport to dates at Nando’s and Dixy Chicken to what really goes on during Friday prayers at the mosque. Taken together, it provided some decent insights and backstories into these characters, their families and their community. At curtain call, it became evident that the three actors get on very well, and throughout the performance, they appeared to bounce off one another’s energy. The total felt more than the sum of the parts in this dreamy and discerning production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Chunkyz Shisha Lounge is a home away from home for Jihad, Rashid and Asif, a space where community whispers are heard, jokes are told and new hustles are born. But its future is under threat, having become a target for local politicians.

Aspiring journalist, Jihad wants to fight back. After winning a competition to produce his own documentary, he sets out to create something that gives a voice to his community and challenges the usual stereotypes that fill the airwaves.

Will Jihad be able to create something that makes his boys proud? Or will his dreams of becoming a journalist come at a cost too high to bear?

The Company
Mohamed-Zain Dada – WRITER
Salman Akhtar – ASIF
Omar Bynon – JIHAD
Arian Nik – RASHID
Milli Bhatia – DIRECTOR
Tomás Palmer – DESIGNER
Theophilus O. Bailey – Godson – MOVEMENT DIRECTOR
Aneesha Srinivasan – ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
Catriona McHugh – STAGE MANAGER
Charlotte Padgham – STAGE MANAGER

Blue Mist
by Mohamed-Zain Dada
Thu 05 Oct – Sat 18 Nov 2023

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