When Yorkshire girl Ella meets north Londoner Haseeb at a drama workshop, they kiss, fall in love, and it all seems very simple. But there’s an elephant in the room and the more they ignore it, the bigger it gets.
Writer Zia Ahmed was shortlisted for Young Poet Laureate for London in 2015 and is a former Roundhouse Poetry Slam champion. His first play is impressively confident, quirky and textured.
It features dance, music and, in the appealingly expressive Rachael Merry, British Sign Language. Jake Thackray’s song Lah-Di-Da, told in BSL, becomes a motif for the couple’s relationship.
Ragevan Vasan’s Haseeb is laid-back and cheeky; the everyday racism he experiences is shrugged off with a joke, while for the bigger stuff he’s found a way to bite his tongue, but it’s clear that Emily Stott’s witty Ella sometimes feels out of her depth with a Muslim boyfriend.
Director Anna Himali Howard creates a sense of physical distance but intimacy between the couple via silent soulful dance pieces and ecstatic star-jump routines to Beyonce and Jay-Z’s Drunk in Love. The chemistry between them feels joyful and buoyant – a counterpoint to feelings they avoid discussing.
The elephant metaphor used by Ahmed to convey the couple’s inability to articulate their fears feels on the nose and an incident with black-faced mummers at Christmas feels somewhat crowbarred in, but these are minor quibbles. This is a tender story of young love told with a keen ear for language.