This performance is less a ‘show’ more of an emotive commentary on Muslim women and the challenges they face today. It has less to do with lingerie than its title might suggest, but it does a good job of exposing the private parts of the female Muslim mind.

The extremely colourful and diverse 50 minute monologue delivered by Fatima is a collection of thoughts and conversations of 6 women. Young and old, they illuminate totally different views on their heritage, culture, religion and relationships.

Set in post 9/11 America, Dirty Pakistani Lingerie interweaves sensitive topics in current news with comedy and very much tries to be the voice that “say’s what we’re all thinking.” Very near the beginning a young girl is depicted arguing with her father (both personas played to great comic effect by Fatima). The father presses “it’s not safe to be a Muslim openly anymore” to which the girl counters “It’s not like we live in France,” –The eyebrows of the gentleman in the seat next to me flew up into his hair incredibly fast at that line, but I’m sure some would agree this could be quite an accurate depiction of teenage disregard, whatever religion they might be. This is about as close to the bone the show slices and from here moves very much toward the debate around arranged marriage in a modern world, with other influxes reminding us of the other impacts of racism, elitism and pressures of duty related to being Muslim in a world where that means you’re a minority with a good chance of being miss understood. 

Judging by the chuckles bubbling healthily throughout the audience last night, no-one is likely to be offended by the material here; on the contrary, it’s very enjoyable. Notably though, it never quite approaches a ‘laugh out loud’ level of hilarity, and I am wondering whether this is not for lack of comic creativeness but because it is very much written for the American audience.

Fatima is a chameleon of characters, playing successfully everyone from a 6 year old girl to a woman in her 50s. Personas evoke familiar situations of adolescence; a girl praying for good test scores at school so she can get into a good university, juxtaposed with worries about whether her future husband will let her go to Harvard. My favourite character was by far ‘Asma’ (although names are not really mentioned; the programme is handy for info such as names), described simply as “a Pakistani mother in her 60s” searching tirelessly for a husband for her daughter. She is seen heavily-handedly, authoritatively, impatiently taking out a phone, a newspaper and a pen and skilfully adjusting her daughter’s age, height, figure, appetite, and even skin colour to try and convince there other mothers on the phone to release their sons to her. While this is immensely funny, it’s also a huge awakening to what feels like an authentic painting of the hard work many women just like Asma put in with the sole intention of making sure their children are married, where a successful marriage is seen as a successful life. All parents want to do the best for their children, and we see very clearly by the end of this sketch that that is the only motive in what some westerners may call parental ‘meddling.’ Fatima’s Asma, in an emotional conversation at the end of her days search, tries to make the audience understand this, and bring sensitivity and humanity to an approach that many in the UK don’t understand and therefore fear.

Its impressive how everything about Fatima’s body, movement and voice changes so dramatically from character to character, seamlessly using just one piece of material to let the audience know from the start they are watching someone else now. I also got the impression that these characters may not have simply come out of Fatima’s head, but are portrayed for clearly that I wonder if they’re based on truth, at least to some extent.

At the end of the performance, we are asked to re-evaluate not just the depiction of Islam and our evaluation of it, but our own culture and conscious decision making too. What are we working for? Is it worth it? Dirty Pakistani Lingerie is touring to 15 different cities on this run of shows, last night being the 9th. For a provocative evening, but not in the ways some may expect, prepare yourself for an entertaining mosaic of comedy, culture, politics and a little tragedy. It has a unique appeal, and sure enough Unity was just on the edge of being sold out last night, just as the play has attracted audiences all over the USA before coming to Britain.

Reviewer: Natalie Romero

Reviewed: 1st April 2016

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