The Verse’s Csenge Krokovay reviews the play, The Diary of a Hounslow Girl held at the Brighton Dome on Monday 27th March 2017
Written by: Ambreen Razia
Performed by: Nyla Levy
“I ain’t kiddin orite, there is such thing as Hounslow Girl… didn’t you not know that?”
A Hounslow girl is a young teenager, born and raised in the borough in West London – and she’s easy to recognise. She is 16, wears a hijab with big hoop earrings – religious, but expressive. She is loud; she acts street wise and confident. She explains that she always wears her hijab (even in the bath tub) because she has to be faithful to her religion. Even so, she experiences all the aspects of traditional West London life: sex, drugs, violence, alcohol and love. She leads a double life, keeping the two sides separate, which makes it hard for her to integrate into a society when there is both a community pressure from home, and a social pressure from the modern world. Where does she belong, and how can she balance these two co-existing worlds?
These are the conflicts of Ambreen Razia’s play. It’s a brilliant masterpiece which questions her identity, and looks for the answer. How can someone stay traditional in a modern world? How can you follow your heart and your religion at the same time and resist the temptations of West London trends? How can a young Muslim girl find her place in a society, surrounded by third generation Pakistani parents who have a second generation mentality?
“Never forget what the British have done. You are Muslim, you may be British, but you are never going to be English!” said the grandmother to her daughter, when she left Pakistan. And so the daughter passes the message to the Hounslow Girl.
This play was originally written and performed by Ambreen Razia, who is pictured in the trailer of the show. However, her part is now played by the also very talented actress, Nyla Levy, who gives an equally gripping performance of the play.
At first, the main character of this play acts tough. She speaks like a real teenager who rebels against her family and traditions. However, even though she is free to make fun of everyone and everything around her, she has very deep emotional characteristics. She has dreams, wants to be modern; she wants to travel and love without conditions. But – first and foremost – she wants to get out of Hounslow. She has a childish view of the world, which offers hilarity and irony to the performance. However as the play goes on, we find out that the life she leads is real, scary and dangerous. She talks to the audience like she talks to her diary, and tells us what she cannot tell anyone else face to face – or on the phone, projected to the wall. The play creates an incredible connection with the viewers.
“I doubt you will see something more moving or a performance as strong for such a young performer any time soon.”
– British Theatre
Ambreen Razia has said the play was inspired by young women she worked with for a while, and the young British Muslim girls she went to school with. A personal story from her childhood, when she fell in love with a non-Muslim boy, made her question her whole identity – thus inspiring elements of the show.
The anxiety of belonging is what this play tries – and succeeds – to unfold, and is a fresh take on a topic so relatable across audiences. It is current and relevant and a must see production. It is funny and heartbreaking at the same time and speaks about the unspeakable; it’s a play where the audience becomes best friends with the protagonist, and learns what it truly means to be a Hounslow Girl.