December 16 2015
New play looks at how second and third generation South Asians manage friendships, romance and family relations on and off-line…
FOR MOST young people (and beyond) relationships are the trickiest of life’s rich and varied challenges.
In South Asian communities managing the expectations of parents and other close relatives can present further complications and obstacles to an already fraught arena.
A new work by emerging playwright Shazia Ashraf looks to explore this in the context of second and third generation South Asian Britons in “99% Halal”, which opens tomorrow (December 17) in Bradford.
“It’s satirical,” Ashraf told www.asiancutlurevulture.com. “It’s like when a Muslim brother walks into a restaurant or a takeaway and demands that his food his halal – but where are his boundaries? There is no such thing as 99 per cent halal – I am taking the mick out of that.”
The play centres around two characters who are preparing to get married and there is a good deal about social media and how it impacts on relationships.
There is a strong, multi-media element to the play, which is aimed at a 16+ age audience, is set in the present and is about 90 minutes long.
In many ways, Ashraf wants to deal with the here and now of love and meeting a potential partner and how they are managed by British Muslims/South Asians.
She said: “There is a lack of believable South Asian characters on stage, I don’t understand them and I belong to this community of people and I just don’t believe them (these characters), it’s like somebody has decided this is the version of people (like me).”
For her, it’s important to show second and third generation Muslims and South Asians on stage.
“These people exist, they have their own identity which is South Asian and British and they are very confident of that.”
Ashraf spent time in Bradford talking to different people and noticed some changes within communities.
“A lot of second and third generation can communicate but there are some people who just can’t, especially about relationships.”
The phrase ‘Haram (meaning forbidden in Islam) relationships’ comes up and it’s clear that dating and having girlfriends/boyfriends can be an area of contention.
“I don’t want to generalise too much. This generation has its own identity, and experiences and beliefs and we are not seeing that (in the wider media).”
Ashraf is keen to explore the identities and beliefs of what she calls the ‘Shisha bar generation’ – those who socialise extensively and go out all night.
“Where do they go, what do they do, how do they use social media?”
She also hinted that one of the characters has a significant online presence.
“There is a generation sat in their bedrooms making youtube videos and posting them online and then become stars, how do they deal with it?”
So, there are a number of rich themes and it asks questions of all of us about society and how young people are coping with those particular pressures.
“The two characters just happen to be of Pakistani origin and Muslim,” Ashraf reminded us. “The play is like taking a slice out of Bradford and putting it on stage.”
There will be music and dance, with these arrangements done by DJ Shai Guy (Shai Hussain of Bombay Funkadelic and BBC writers’ room – a group developing BBC content).
She stressed that she is not coming down on one side or another or taking a distinct stand.
“I’d like to let audiences decide for themselves,” she emphasised.
Ashraf enjoyed success in 2013 with “Peacocks”, a play loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s “Othello” but set in contemporary Bradford with characters inspired by the Mughal period.
A director too, she set up the ‘My Big Phat Writing Group’ up in the town nearly five years ago, and hopes that “99% Halal” will get a longer and more geographically spread run in 2016.
Hannah Baxter-Gale is the technical manager and Uzma Kazi is responsible for the stage. The play’s videographer is Sid Akbar Ali. “99% Halal” is Arts Council funded.
‘99% Halal’ – Thursday, December 17 and Friday, December 18, 7pm – Kala Sangam, St Peters House,1 Forster Ct, Bradford BD1 4TY