Does My Bomb Look Big in This? at Soho Theatre
As its title might suggest, Does My Bomb Look Big in This? is a play unafraid to take the hard-hitting, uncomfortable stuff and douse it with audience laughter. However, this is also a production that takes its big topics seriously. Namely, the disappearance of 15-year-old Yasmin, who runs away to Syria and becomes a “jihadi bride”. On paper, this could go horribly and insensitively wrong, but new talent Nyla Levy has written a fresh and witty script with a unique and energetic approach.
Dubbed “terror baby” by the media, Yasmin’s story is no secret from the start. Below the headlines, however, there is a deeper, humanising narrative about the search for belonging. But how did it all happen? Levy (who also stars as Yasmin) shows a tragic, less extreme route to radicalisation: bullying, racism, discrimination, events that shake up a happy home life, and opportunistic online grooming.
The story is told by Aisha (Halema Hussein), still reeling from the shock of her best friend’s actions but needing to share it nonetheless, thus leading to a surprisingly engaging retelling. Almost like talking to a ghost, this fourth-wall narrative might initially raise a few eyebrows, but under Mingyu Lin’s playful direction it just works. It includes Yasmin re-enacting the events of her past as she “discovers” new revelations herself, Aisha instructing the “sound guy”, and the actor playing school bully Morgan “breaking character” to complain mid-scene. Oh-so meta. The quirky setup has its three leading performers effortlessly rotating a multitude of supporting roles and accents, and also lends itself to Eleanor Williams’s hilariously versatile turn as “Actor 3’”, who comments on the one-dimensional, non-representative nature of her white school bully/shop assistant-type characters.
In fact, the irony is that Levy was driven to write Does My Bomb… after being typecast herself in the “terrorist girlfriend” role. It’s elements like these that prove the debut playwright’s fierce originality. Other strengths include the effortless integration of an Urdu and Urban Dictionary slang-filled script, where the likes of “bare/boid/bookey/bruv” rarely feel forced. There’s also a smart depiction of social media, in which WhatsApp conversations are brought to life, adding huge comic relief. The contrast of Yasmin in a lonely mansion on an ISIS Tinder-style app for husbands is stark and an interesting inclusion.
Although the story isn’t perfect, it’s a powerful piece of theatre that concludes on a note of hope. There’s topical relevance considering similar real-time headlines, but beyond that it’s also a captivating exploration of adolescence and friendship. Soho Theatre is usually a prime spot for spotting new talent – and all three actresses certainly hit the mark.
Photo: Bettina Adela
Does My Bomb Look Big in This? is at Soho Theatre from 21st May until 8th June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.