A glowing venn diagram frames the stage, two large circles just overlapping in the centre. At first, it appears like smart, eye catching staging, a unique way of spotlighting the action in the darkness of Arcola Theatre’s studio.
But as the story of Spun unfolds, it becomes clear that this staging perfectly mirrors the story of main characters Safa and Aisha, two girls clinging desperately to what holds them together as their lives veer widely apart.
Rabiah Hussain’s captivating debut follows two East London girls who, having just graduated from university, set out on their journey to adulthood in very different ways. While Safa (Humaira Iqbal) gets a big marketing job in the city, Aisha (Aasiya Shah) stays in Newham to work at their local school, and suddenly the pair are part of two very different bubbles.
What on the surface is a simple tale of childhood friendship buckling under the pressure of adult life, becomes a much more complex play, tackling numerous social issues and themes of estrangement.
The action takes place against the tumultuous events of the summer of 2005 – the ecstatic excitement of London being chosen as the host for the 2012 Olympic Games, closely followed by the terror of the 7/7 bombings.
As British Pakistani Muslims, these events quickly lead the women to question their identities and how they’re perceived by others. From proud defiance to scared vulnerability, their reactions are wildly different, splintering their friendship as they struggle to understand and empathise with each other.
As Safa tries harder to fit in and suppress the aspects of her identity she believes make her different, Aisha finds ways to physically manifest her identity to fulfil her need of proving to the world who she is.
Under Richard Speir’s direction the play is seamless, keeping Hussain’s smart writing at the forefront with minimal staging and special effects. Direct dialogue to the audience helps set the scene throughout and is subtly done, unlike some of the more awkward miming at the start of the piece.
While both performances were outstanding, Aasiya Shah’s portrayal of Aisha as brazenly fiestly yet quietly vulnerable was particularly powerful to watch. The pair bounce of each other wonderfully, raw passion exploding during their arguments, but an authentic warmth emerging during their tender moments.
There are so many avenues which could have been explored here, but by distilling the focus of the play to this one friendship, Hussain creates a sharp and incisive piece, cleverly interweaving big social issues with the reality of normal, everyday lives.
A powerful tale of female friendship and an intimate look at navigating race, religion and class in modern day Britain, Rabiah Hussain’s debut is pure brilliance.