RAH, Hen & Chickens Theatre and Hope Theatre

By Luisa De la Concha Montes

RAH is a play written and performed by Laila Latifa. Set in the bedroom of Manal, a half-Moroccan, half-British woman in her early twenties, the play bravely depicts a history of belonging. Structured as a monologue, the script explores Manal’s internal ramblings, exposing the truth about her family, her feelings of inadequacy at university, and her difficulties navigating her sex life within the context of an overtly religious family.

The first impression is one of intimacy. Manal’s bedroom is peppered with an array of elements that reference her mixed identity. We see a Twilight poster, a Sports Direct mug and a tajine dish, amongst other personal objects. Halfway through the show, Manal changes from her hoodie to her abaya. This signifies her preparation she has to go through to meet her family, but also makes a stark point about the physical and performative nature of identity.

Tonally, the play jumps between comedy and serious remarks. At times the transitions feel clumsy and jarring, as they don’t provide enough breathing space for the audience to digest Manal’s emotional turmoil. However, Latifa’s presence and charisma that mainly thrive during the comedic intermissions, combined with the conversational format of the play, effectively create a sense of camaraderie between performer and audience. The script is packed with strong intermissions that explore complex topics such as eating disorders, abuse and religious trauma. Yet, at times it feels too ambitious for its own good, as it packs a lot of discourse in too little time. This causes it to lose focus and impact. The aim of the play also feels a bit fragmented, as it wasn’t clear who Manal was talking to. Was it her white boyfriend? Her father? The (assumed) British audience? By trying to confront the pains of alienation without having a clear recipient, the play ends up feeling like a tirade rather than the valid denunciation that it actually is.

Throughout the play, it is evident that the whole story is propelled by anger, however the writing feels withdrawn, almost afraid of that anger. I left wishing Manal’s character would properly launch herself into the anger, as this is what makes the story so unique and necessary.

RAH runs through 8 April at The Hope Theatre.

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