Coconut, Ovalhouse

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by guest critic Joanna Trainor

Rumi (Kuran Dohil) is a Muslim atheist, having to hide huge chunks of her life from her family. Including her new, white, non-Muslim boyfriend, Simon. What could possibly go wrong?

Coconut is one of those plays where each person who watches it will take away or resonate with something different, for me it was the role religion plays in our lives.

In the character of Simon, questions about why people come to faith arise, and this feels like a new and exciting topic for theatre to look at. Religion can’t be used as a substitute for personality or loss, nor an excuse to share your prejudices, and that comes across well in Guleraana Mir’s intelligent writing.

The relationship between Simon and his Imam exposes the enormous differences in their approach to Islam. Simon wants to feel like he belongs to something and impress those around him, but doesn’t ever speak about an actual belief in God. He almost never mentions Allah – it’s about the structure of his new life, and the support from the Mosque. Whereas for Irfan the Imam, everything is Allah-focused. Mir’s text opens up a fascinating conversation that’s well-informed and objectively presented.

The piece does need more of a directorial focus, however. The actors spend quite a lot of time aimlessly wandering around the stage and this leaves the show looking more like a work-in-progress than a finished production. Also, there are far too many blackouts for 95 minutes. There’s some very funky furniture that looks like it belongs on a Buzzfeed video as a polygonal block becomes seats, tables, sofas and drawers, but scenes don’t need a table placing just so for the sake of two minutes, particularly as it starts to detract from the energy and flow of the performance.

Mir’s writing is the real star of Coconut. Rumi is quick-witted, sarcastic and sassy – you instantly side with her. Honestly it took some restraint not to shout back at Simon at times. There’s room for development but the ideas are there, and it’s refreshing to go to the theatre to see something that feels entirely new.

Coconut runs until 28 April.

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