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Hijabi Monologues London review at Bush Theatre – ‘funny, frank and moving’

Nadi Kemp-Sayfi in Hijabi Monologues Nadi Kemp-Sayfi in Hijabi Monologues. Photo: Helen Murray
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Hijabi Monologues isn’t about oppression or radicalism or what it means in religious terms to wear the headscarf. These things are touched upon, but often by way of a well-timed joke or a sardonic aside. It is a wonderful piece of theatre, one that allows us to hear the voices – unveiled, unfiltered – of Muslim women, so little heard in mainstream discourse. The production makes you feel entirely positive about theatre as a vital medium for discovery, for community and generosity. The writing is also frequently very funny.

Of the nine monologues in the programme, six are by US writer and show creator Sahar Ishtiaque Ullah, with the rest provided by female authors local to Shepherd’s Bush. Nimmo Ismail’s New Ways of Looking, about people-watching on the tube as a cure for travel sickness, develops interesting ideas about the visibility and invisibility simultaneously bestowed by the hijab. “I’ll always be watched,” notes the bilious narrator, painfully aware of the fact that her headscarf is so often a symbol of “violence, death and madness” in a country ridden by heightened fears and xenophobia. Serious social commentary is balanced with deft comic flair and it is winningly performed by Zainab Hasan.

Michal Keyamo. Photo: Helen Murray
Michal Keyamo. Photo: Helen Murray

Elsewhere, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi gives subtle sass in Ullah’s Hitting on a Hijabi 101, detailing on-campus sexual politics with knowing scepticism. Amal Abdi’s Hijabi Spiderman is a gem of a piece, full of wit, brio and stereotype-smashing turns of phrase about big hair and being akin to “a basic white girl”.

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Nine funny, frank and moving monologues