The Arcola Theatre’s industrial style Studio 2 is the perfect setting for Asif Khan’s Combustion. Taking place in a Bradford garage workshop owned by Shaz (Beruce Khan), a case including Asian men in the grooming of underage girls sets off protests by the English Defence League against the Muslim community. We meet Shaz’s employees, Ali (Rez Kempton) and Faisal (Mitesh Soni), and Shaz’s sister Samina (Shireen Farkhoy), who is dedicated to fighting the ignorant protests. With Muslim characters at the centre of this story, we see the effects Islamophobia has in modern Britain, through a delightfully entertaining, moving and uplifting story.
The trio of garage workers pack a mighty punch of jokes and one liners, poking fun at each other as all friends do. Soni, as the easily led and naïve Faisal, has the audience in fits of laughter with his relentlessly upbeat energy, and is frequently the butt of Ali’s (Kempton) jokes. The dynamic between these two with Shaz (Khan) as the head of the group, provides a relatable and engaging way of discussing issues such as revenge attacks on Muslims, propaganda against Islam, as well as having a sense of humour about their religion. Farkhoy shines as the confident and intelligent Samina, who bravely resists hate and oppression, and has the patience of a saint when she meets a member of the EDL, Andy (Nigel Hastings). Hastings’ fiercely ignorant character is skillfully mixed with a humourous side, making him a three dimensional person, and not just the enemy. Nona Shepphard directs a highly talented cast.
Mila Sanders’ design in such an intimate space utilises the few pieces of set to it’s full potential. With just a table, a bench, and two chairs, each transition takes us to a completely new location. This is supported by James Hesford’s sound design, and Andy Grange’s clever use of coloured lighting to reflect mood, all of which turned the whole production into a combustion of energy.
As an audience member, I was left with a message of hope and peace for all, as essentially we are shown that we as human beings want the same thing, only we need to open our eyes to how the world is being presented to us and actually listen to one another’s experiences. This message from Asif Khan is extremely important in such turbulent times, I implore you to see this show.
Combustion is playing Arcola Theatre until June 24.
Photo: Talula Sheppard