With her debut show The Diary of a Hounslow Girl, Ambreen Razia proves to be as talented a writer as she is a performer. The play follows 16-year-old Shaheeda as she struggles to align her Pakistani heritage with the realities of life as a London teenager. Shaheeda’s mother wants her daughter to combine scholarship with accomplished cookery, but Shaheeda would rather drink, get high and fall in love.
This is a sophisticated, moving and often very funny piece of writing, particularly nuanced in its depiction of Shaheeda’s relationship with her mother. Much like the acclaimed Islington Community Theatre production of Brainstorm, it is astute in tackling the breakdown of the loving bonds between parent and child that can occur when a child becomes a teenager – and also how this experience can be magnified for the children of first generation immigrants, whose parents feel distant from their children’s British lives.
Sophie Moniram’s production is a winning combination of simplicity and ambition; hidden depths lurk in both Petra Hjortsberg’s set design and Paul O’Shaughnessy’s beautiful lighting, while Razia’s script touches on everything from first love to cultural expectations to student-teacher relationships; it’s a bit like an inner-city version of An Education.
If play could be accused of anything, it’s a slight over-ambitiousness – it loses its way a little in the final third, as Razia struggles to tie up her all her themes – but it doesn’t detract from the considerable appeal of the piece.