About What Fatima Did…

Thursday 5th November 2009

What Fatima Did…
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This week, I also saw Atiha Sen Gupta’s What Fatima Did… at the Hampstead Theatre. In this excitingly contemporary story, the eponymous Asian 17-year-old decides to wear a hijab, thus subverting the expectations of her family and friends. Fatima’s defiant gesture sends out shock waves, first around her family. We watch as her brother, Mo, and mother, discuss her decision, with her mum seeing it as a throwback to the medieval oppression of women. Her schoolfriends have equal trouble taking her seriously, then debate the pros and cons of asserting a militant Muslim identity in today’s fashion-conscious world. As her mate Aisha points out, people (er, men) are always telling women what they should wear. But the boy most affected by Fatima’s newly head-covered appearance is her ex-boyfriend George, a Brit of Irish origins who can barely keep a lid on his smoldering resentment. At the play’s climax, he arrives a birthday party for Mo and Fatima draped in a Union Jack, thus asserting his English identity against her newly discovered Muslim one. It’s a cracking scene, neatly directed by Kelly Wilkinson. What this debut play captures is the familiar badinage of teens, although the style is less individual than that of some Asian playwrights. Here, Sen Gupta’s central device is to keep Fatima offstage, and thus focus audience attention on the reactions of others to her unseen appearance. This occasionally requires awkward contrivances and means we don’t get the chance of hearing Fatima’s reasons for her decision. But it’s a good debut nevertheless.

© Aleks Sierz

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