Described as “a tale of faith, family and bacon butties”, Mush and Me tells the touching and timeless story of two young people falling in love. In Wetherspoons and hotel rooms, their relationship blossoms. The only problem? One of them is Jewish and the other is Muslim.
Created by Karla Crome, Daniella Isaacs and Rosy Banham, the play is set in modern-day London, but is partly inspired by the true story of Isaacs’s great aunt.
“She’s amazing: she’s 102 years old and still totally with it,” said Isaacs. “When she was in her 20s, she fell in love with a non-Jewish guy who eventually proposed to her. She said no because she was scared about how her family and community would react, and she’s been on her own ever since. It was fascinating to consider that she could have lived a totally different life if it weren’t for those social fears.”
Isaacs, who plays lead character Gabby, believes that many of her friends would do the same even now, and further investigation proved that these anxieties are more widely shared than you might imagine.
“We interviewed lots of people, and it was shocking how many came forward. These aren’t just people hidden away in ultra-religious communities: they come from all walks of life. What’s interesting is that generally, their difficulties don’t actually come from a strong belief in God; it’s more about traditional values.”
Despite this, writer Karla Crome, herself an atheist, was keen to emphasise that the story is not a culturally exclusive one.
“Essentially, it’s about two people falling in love. We tried to avoid making it too much about religion, so I hope that people from all different backgrounds will see themselves in both characters.”
The difficulties Gabby and Mush face will certainly resonate with twenty-somethings trying to make their way in the world today. A 23-year-old lawyer from north London, Gabby meets Mush at a call centre where she has taken up a temporary job.
“She’s at this difficult point where she can’t get a training contract, so she’s filling her time while she tries to move her career forward,” Crome explained. “We wanted to set up a juxtaposition with someone extremely ambitious getting stuck because she’s not given the opportunity to progress.”
On the other hand, the second-generation Lebanese Mush is more focused on his faith than his career.
“Spiritually, Gabby and Mush are in very different places,” said Crome. “Gabby sees success as being about earning lots of money, whereas Mush has recently been through a kind of religious awakening. In his teens he went to Lebanon and strengthened his relationship with Allah. His priorities are spiritual – he just wants to be happy and make people around him happy. He’s not as academic as Gabby, but he certainly has aspirations.”
Unsurprisingly, these differences mean that the two don’t immediately warm to each other, but it’s not long before they discover that they actually have lots in common – something that’s also true of their respective faiths. Both Judaism and Islam are religions of the Book with one God and many of the same prophets. There’s also crossover for their followers in terms of everyday living: neither eat pork, for example.
Mush’s and Gabby’s story may be an optimistic one, yet it avoids moralising about interfaith relationships, leaving room for viewers to develop their own conclusions.
“Although there’s a modern, liberal view that says that integrated relationships are the way forward, there’s also something special about religion and cultural traditions,” said Isaacs. “Holding onto that is important for a lot of Muslims at the moment, with Islam being constantly sensationalised by the press, so I think there are positives on both sides.”
Having made its debut in Edinburgh last summer, the play will open next month at JW3, a north London Jewish arts centre whose audiences may well have strong reactions to the story one way or another.
“There are people who have come to us afterwards and said that something like that would never happen, while others have said that it pretty accurately reflected their experiences,” said Crome.
It’s not only the Jewish community the team are reaching out to, however. Although there are currently no specific plans to take the show to predominantly Muslim venues, Crome stressed how important it was for them to represent both communities. Using money awarded by the Arts Council, they’re creating a series of workshops and outreach programmes, as well as encouraging faith school groups to come along. Meanwhile, the show’s next stop – Australia’s Adelaide Fringe – will see it meet with a whole new audience altogether.
Mush and Me is showing at JW3 in Hampstead on Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 February, with tickets available to book online.