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Salaam presented by Sara Aniqah Malik | Review

SalaamSara Malik’s Salaam is about lots and lots of things. Islamaphobia, faith, family, food and much more. Too much more?

Rema (Raagni Sharma) and her mother, Mariam (Yasmin Wilde), are passing Ramadan, when a pig’s head is thrown through their window, shattering their peace. In an instant, mother and daughter diverge and unite in their response to Islamophobia in their community. Rema responds with calm, offering to take the head out, while Mariam is shocked, but ultimately more accepting of the situation.

A second intrusion into their lives takes the form of Ellie (Laura Waldren), a white girl from the down the road, who comes to reassure and support. Rema doesn’t really know Ellie, and their initial engagements are awkward, but they grow to like one another and even appear to flirt in one scene. Though different in tone and physicality, in some ways Ellie represents just as much of an invasion as the pig’s head.

There are several, interconnected storylines opened up here, though none are developed. Initially, we have an interesting conflict between young and old, examined through the framing of interpretation of the Qur’an: Mariam reads the text avidly, but doesn’t always understand, while Rema is disinterested- here are the seeds of a nice discussion of tradition and youth. Then we have the beginnings of a story about white saviour instincts, and the misunderstandings between the victim and the onlooker: Ellie encourages an uncomfortable Rema to publicise her experience, suggesting that Ellie has more to gain from it than Rema. There is a hint of mental health issues, as Rema is reminded to take her pills, and she accuses Mariam of sedating her sister. This gets the shallowest examination, and perhaps Malik’s approach becomes morally problematic, as depression is ‘dipped into’ for five minutes, but given no further interrogation.

So very many beginnings, yet so few endings. Of course, ambiguity is a value in theatre, but Salaam fails to separate itself from unclearness. Too many themes, topics and issues are begun and none continued to any valuable conclusion. Sometimes, simplicity is the best sign of a good play.

Perhaps because of this, the acting is halting. Rema and Mariam have limited familial familiarity; their arguments are mild, their humour awkward. Similarly, Ellie and Rema’s relationship is difficult to understand: initially distant, they are soon messing around, throwing food on the floor. It’s not clear where the friendship has sprung from or where it’s headed, perhaps because Malik’s script favours ‘issues’ over naturalism.

Aside from the script’s issues with overcomplication, there are also sacrifices in the realm of realism. It’s never made clear how old Rema is supposed to be, but she talks like a Shakespearean soothsayer. Jokes are crammed in the side, ‘playful’ scenes are riddled with non-sequitur, and every character is bizarrely articulate. Malik’s script could really do with being pared down and focussed on the simple truths it holds in it.

2 gold stars

Review by Thomas Froy

they say angels come to earth at this time
hovering above our houses
and I think
we glow for them
like candles
in the dark

London. 2017. The first night of Ramadan. Mother and daughter prepare to break the fast. Quiet, alone, and at peace, they prepare for a night of contemplation. A crash. Glass shatters. Everything is changed.

‘SALAAM’ is a lyrical, experimental investigation into what it means to be Muslim in London today. Linking Islamist terror attacks and the resulting spike of Islamophobia, ‘SALAAM’ uses the lens of two Muslim women to explore mental health issues and the nature of gendered racial abuse.

Combining live music with performance, it seeks to speak the language of London today and asks us how to make a better London of tomorrow.

Director: Sara Aniqah Malik
Writer: Sara Aniqah Malik
Producer: Niall Dingle
Design: Roisin Martindale

Cast: Raagni Sharma, Yasmin Wilde and Laura Waldren
Musicians: Megan McArthur and Edie Bailey
Composer: Kristina Arakelyan

30 JAN — 3 FEB 2019
https://vaultfestival.com

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