Writer: Zia Ahmed
Director: Sameena Hussain
Ella, a Yorkshire-born actor and Haseeb, a London-born poet, meet when he attends one of her drama workshops. Haseeb stays behind to ask Ella to repeat her tongue twisters, and flirting (obviously) ensues.
They quickly fall for each other in the flashing montage that follows, kissing in clubs, sharing controversial opinions on hot chocolate over dinner and giggling on tube rides. Eva Scott and Usman Nawaz’s endearing performances deliver tangible chemistry.
The honeymoon phase doesn’t last long. On top of dealing with the stresses of life as an artist in a bustling city, juggling second and third jobs, as an interracial couple, Ella and Haseeb are trying to love across a deep cultural divide.
It becomes increasingly difficult to ignore the elephant in the room when the elephant (his name is André) starts making trumpeting noises and messing up the carpet.
Rather than throwing in rhyme for rhyme’s sake, poetry slam champion and London laureate Zia Ahmed skillfully laces the script with lyrical detail and sharp humour. Ella and Haseeb’s mundane tiffs over the correct pronunciation of ‘bath’ or which London zone reigns superior feel achingly familiar.
These humorous moments make the casual hatred of strangers even more excruciating. A concerned woman questions why Haseeb is at the park, not believing he could be babysitting a white child. A tapas restaurant refuses to seat the couple, only for Haseeb to call them later using a fake name and an RP accent and be offered a table. Strangers frequently approach Haseeb looking for drugs.
By focusing on the ‘small’ and showing rather than telling us the experience of dealing with these microaggressions on a daily basis, Ahmed makes a heartfelt commentary on our hostile society without crossing into ‘preaching’ territory.
Almost incessant movement accompanies Ahmed’s pacy, energetic writing; Ella and Haseeb stomp, jump and dance across designer Warda Abbasi’s brightly-coloured set. At times, the loud climbing distracts from the words being spoken, but as the places the couple call home begin to take shape in our minds, the design’s potential is unleashed.
A set of pink stairs stands in as the couple’s bedroom. They place gifts collected over their time together on each step, a shrine to their relationship. There is so much tension in the latter half of the play, the trinkets seem to threaten to topple and shatter at any instant.
As the pressure facing Ella and Haseeb’s relationship mounts, the tongue twisters from the start of the play are bent into angry, unrecognisable patterns. It’s like watching a rubber band being pulled taut, wondering when it will snap. The speech grows quicker, Jane Laljee’s dramatic lighting turns dark and red, and everyone holds their breath, hoping against hope that the likeable yet unlikely couple will last.
Runs until 14 May 2022.