Writer: Shamser Sinha
Director: Tim Stark
Reviewer: Lettie Mckie
Playwright Shamser Sinha delivers a stunning debut of his first full length piece about two young asylum seekers growing up in Hackney. Staged at the intimate Finborough Theatre this play packed a hard punch of reality add odds with the serene and affluent surroundings of the theatre’s highly sought after SW post code.
An entertaining, extremely moving and ultimately tragic piece Khadija is 18 told the story of two refugees who have grown up in England without their parents. Khadija (Aysha Kala) is from Afghanistan and approaching her 18th birthday. She lives with eastern European Liza (Katherine Rose Morley) and the baby that Liza cares for in a hostel.
At first Khadija seems like any other London teenager, speaking that particular brand of street slang so many 21st C British kids adopt using words like ‘blood’ and ‘innit’ frequently, her language peppered with swear words and teeth sucking. The play starts in her boyfriend Ade’s (Victor Alli) room when they have just had sex. They are flirting, laughing and teasing each other but then it is revealed that Khadija has to go to an appointment with her lawyer about her immigration papers.
As the story of these teenagers lives unfold the moment when Khadija will find out whether she is deported or not grows closer. The characters’ lives start to unravel when Khadija discovers she’s pregnant but something is wrong and she can’t get to a doctor, because she isn’t registered with a GP. As the date of the immigration decision comes nearer her situation becomes precarious and she makes a run for it, leaving her friends behind and ends up living on the streets.
This play subtly weaves together a narrative which reveals the all too harsh reality of living in England without the necessary support of citizenship, family or a steady income. It’s a tale about these specific young people, but as much as the characters were individuals they were also types. Shamser Sinha has spent ten years working with young asylum seekers and this showed not only in what he chose to write about, but in his style of writing. The story was told in this play not through long speeches explaining heavily laboured points but through a colloquial dialogue style that centred upon an understanding of the way young people express themselves. And so it is a sensitive portrayal of a story repeated far too often, highlighting the plight of people who remain unseen and disregarded in multicultural Britain.
This play’s power comes from the strength of the writing which combines a funny and heartfelt dialogue with utterly believable characters and an unremitting commitment to revealing the truth about these young people’s lives. It doesn’t hide behind clichés but simply tackles the reality of what it is like to grow up in such a situation, no perfect saints or evil sadists but just normal teenagers dealing with incredible hardship.
The Finborough’s intimate but flexible space has been transformed for this production with a bold and inventive set. Moveable plastic blocks were used to create the different domestic scenes and had hidden compartments for storing props in. A backdrop of frosted panelling allowed for a plethora of different colourful lighting effects which combined with a thunking soundtrack of contemporary hip hop and grime. The music reflects the tastes of the young characters in the play who often danced around while changing scenery, and the stark set was in keeping with the storyline – the ugly physical surroundings of the set reflecting the reality of the young peoples’ situation.
The good writing and production combines with an incredibly high standard of acting to great effect. The actors’ onstage chemistry was electric and lines were delivered naturally, but with attention to pace and the pathos hidden within the script. Aysha Kala should be particularly praised for a near perfect performance, for her poise and grace playing a character who has suffered so greatly by the last scene.
Kadija is 18 is funny, true to life and incredibly sad. It’s also a story completely grounded in the reality of the current immigration situation in Britain today and consequently while it was thoroughly enjoyable, it is also, necessarily, thought provoking and challenging.