At the start of 2019, Shamima Begum’s face and name were spread across national and international newspapers. British born Shamima had left the UK at the age of 15 to join the Islamic State. Her intention to return to the UK sparked a public debate on how we handle returning jihadists.
Throughout this debate, our view seems to have shifted from asking why these young people leave their homes and families to join the war in Syria, to discussing their imminent threat to Britain and its people.
Nyla Levy’s play, Does My Bomb Look Big In?, This takes us back to the moments before everything, to the friendships, siblings, parents and promising futures.
It’s GCSE results day and Aisha, played by Halema Hussain, has just opened her envelope, but there is one specific person missing who she would want to share this moment with. Her childhood friend Yasmin (Levy) has suddenly disappeared, the police are monitoring their conversations and Aisha is determined to let the audience know why. Yasmin joins her as a not so silent spirit, disputing or adding to Aisha’s interpretations and generally adding a whole lot of spice to her story.
The two young women are joined by Eleanor Williams, a well-meaning, but very oblivious white female actor who stands in for all the undesirable roles, Morgan, the school bully, the snooty shop assistant and the white female actor who complains about the two-dimensional characters she is playing.
Breaking the fourth wall and thus giving us a play within a play, gives us moments, which tug at our heartstrings or make our belly roll with laughter. Director Mingyu Lin and Movement Director Rachael Nanyonjo’s work means we never feel pushed down an emotional water slide, but gently drift from the shallows into the deep end. Every break in the story and interaction with the set and props is crisp and precise. What could so easily cause the whole play to fall in on itself gives us the opportunity to let the last emotional punch sink in and attempt to guess what might be coming next.
Hussain, Levy and Williams are excellent storytellers, creating an ensemble cast of characters and bubbling with joy at playing each one.
In my opinion, quiet moments like Yasmin’s father saying “I love you” are not given as much room to develop a long-lasting impact as the high energy impromptu rap performances. Also, as can happen when writing teenage characters, their conversations occasionally border on the cringy side of embarrassing.
However, in the end, Levy adds texture to a heavy topic which is forever current, but rarely discussed from a woman of colour’s point of view. Does My Bomb Look Big In This? gives a voice to disillusioned youth and the impact their decisions can have on those they leave behind.
Does My Bomb Look Big In This is playing the Soho Theatre until the 8 June. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.