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Spun review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘an accomplished, refreshing debut’

Aasiya Shah and Humaira Iqbal in Spun at Arcola Theatre. Photo: Alex Brenner

Two women face each other across Khadija Raza’s stark set, with its inlaid swirls of neon. One has just taken her first sip of wine, the other has started wearing her mother’s hijab. “Never be scared to be who you are,” one cautions, but knowing your authentic self is difficult when inside you feel conflicted.

Rabiah Hussain’s debut play Spun crackles with moments like this one. Her writing is fresh and thrilling, pulling a wonderful lyricism out of the rhythms of London slang. Her characters Safa (Humaira Iqbal) and Aisha (Aasiya Shah) are refreshingly original.

The best friends are graduating from university and facing a liminal point in their lives; deciding who they are and who they want to be. Safa and Aisha negotiate their way through the world and other people’s expectations as working-class, Muslim, east London women from good families who enjoy the occasional Barcardi Breezer. Iqbal is soft and empathetic as Safa, if occasionally prone to over-exaggerating her gestures and stumbling over a few lines. Shah plays Aisha with more reserve and a wicked humour. Their friendship is a joy to watch.

Their lives and loyalties are shaken by the 7/7 bombings. There are many directions this narrative could have gone but Hussain has judiciously kept the focus on the women’s relationship with each other and with themselves. Richard Speir’s direction maintains a smooth fluidity, never becoming static and avoiding clichés as Safa emotionally distances herself from Aisha, and what her friend represents in terms of home.

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A fresh and accomplished debut play about friendship that bubbles with original humour