Conceived after writer and actor Nyla Levy became frustrated with the types of ‘jihadi bride’ roles afforded to Muslim actresses, Does My Bomb Look Big in This? seeks to add complexity to and rectify the shallowness of such parts. It follows Yasmin, a troubled teenager from south London who travels to Syria. Her story is told by her best friend Aisha and frenemy Morgan, who attempt to explain how this drastic action came about.
Levy has a charismatic voice that engages tenderly with her teenage subjects. The moments between Aisha and Yasmin, played with fizzing chemistry by Halema Hussain and Levy herself are the most gratifying to watch – by turns fierce, witty, and vulnerable – and Mingyu Lin’s grounded direction allows the girls’ relationship to bloom. Horror, humour and banality sit side by side in Levy’s text, and her exploration of a young girl being groomed is appropriately generous and deeply empathetic.
The moments of meta-theatricality, however, where the three girls argue about how the piece should be staged, are more strained, and Levy’s desire to educate her audience occasionally takes precedence over character development. Hussain’s Aisha in particular feels underbaked, despite her constant presence onstage. Conrad Kira’s sound design is often too severe in mapping out important narrative beats, and Moi Tran’s transformative columns, which line the back of the stage, oddly err on the side of cumbersome, despite their sparseness.
Though imperfect, the warmth and care that exudes from the stage cannot be denied, ultimately elevating the piece.