Humaira Iqbal and and Aasiya Shah in Spun.

Humaira Iqbal and and Aasiya Shah in Spun.

Image by Arcola Theatre

Daniel Nelson


First, let’s hear it for the Arcola.


Why waste time on exorbitantly priced West End theatre tickets when London’s Off Broadway consistently present interesting, funny, moving, insightful pieces such as Spun.


It’s a two-hander, about Safa and Aisha, two Newham girls, British Pakistanis, who are best friends and have just finished university. Now they are setting out on the rest of their lives, sure of keeping in touch, though their paths start to diverge as soon as they take their first post-parent, post-education steps.

They move into different territories, one sticking closer to the world she knows, in the school she attended; the other nervously moving into a new part of town, a new vocabulary, a new class.


London is changing, too, with shrieks of delight as the city  wins its battle to host the Olympics and mutterings of concern as explosions hit the city.


Gradually they drift apart, finally pinpointed by Safa’s failure to turn up for Aisha’s annual remembrance of her mother’s death.


The piece rarely breaks new ground (“Yes, but where are you really from?”, succumbing to peer pressure to take a first alcoholic drink, effusive praise from posh white people who then give a job to one of their own), but it’s important ground and it’s crisply covered.


Similarly, their domestic and work experiences are not dramatic, but are personally significant.


Even the clash between cultures and neighbourhoods is observed quietly, but is heartfelt.


There’s a line about “smelly oiks” – and as I was later musing about its validity I read playwright Rabiah Hussain’s recollection of hearing the phrase in an office in St James’s Park: It took me years to recover.


“That is the reality of words,” she adds, and that recognition plus the artful use of personal experience – and good acting - is why this two-hour story-telling about ordinary people works so well.


So thanks again to Arcola, because Hussain’s first full-length play has been spun out of the theatre’s new writing programme and Arcola LAB, its development programme for BAMER (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee) artists. And it passes the Bechdel Test (a work featuring at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man) with flying colours.


* Spun is at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, E8, £10-£22, until  28 July. Info: 7503 1648


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