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Review: THE P WORD, Bush Theatre

Waleed Akhtar and Esh Alladi star in this 80-minute two-hander

Review: THE P WORD, Bush Theatre

Review: THE P WORD, Bush Theatre The Bush Theatre continues its 50th anniversary celebrations with the staging of Waleed Akhtar's new play, The P Word. This two-man show explores what it's like for a gay Muslim, who's also dealing with the expectations of his Pakistani family and the wider community; it also investigates the continued threat of the UK's 'hostile environment' - a deadly game of chance for many at-risk individuals.

Bilal is keen to shed his Pakistani heritage, preferring to call himself 'Billy' and avoiding all hints of the culture with which he grew up. Though he acts the tough guy and jumps from hook-up to hook-up, he's secretly a bit of a rom-com fan and hopeful that these casual encounters will eventually lead to something a bit more meaningful.

Zafar is the polar opposite: after his father found out about his sexuality, he had to flee Pakistan or risk losing his life. He is hoping he will be granted asylum, but the process is disheartening at best - and his grief for his long-term partner still lingers. There is a real clash of personalities when the two men meet, but perhaps they can turn each other's luck around.

The whole show is a tightly woven blend of acute observational humour, heartstopping drama, and chilling social commentary; Akhtar has so much to say, and somehow he manages to express himself with great skill and heart in approximately 80 minutes of stage time. He gives an eager audience the euphoria of a Hollywood ending, before pulling the rug from under them - the crash back to reality leaves everyone stunned.

It's beautifully structured, with Bilal and Zafar taking alternate monologues for much of the piece, and then a few dialogues creeping in as their stories entwine; as information about their backgrounds is steadily teased out, Bilal's facade gets chipped away and Zafar starts to come out of his shell. Staging it in the round makes it feel more intimate, and the central design matching that of the phulkari Zafar makes is a nice touch from designer Max Johns.

Waleed Akhtar and Esh Alladi are exceptional as Bilal and Zafar. Individually they are excellent, Akhtar providing the bulk of the laughs while Alladi tugs on the audience's heartstrings, but when they come together it is truly magical. They have wonderful chemistry, and naturally bounce off each other during the comic sequences - their skill as storytellers is second-to-none.

This is a fantastic piece of new writing, and Akhtar's is the kind of voice we need to be hearing more of. The P Word speaks to a reality that is abhorrent and unsettling, whilst also being incredibly entertaining and heartwarming at the same time - it's an entertaining and thought-provoking night out. As far as I'm concerned, the P is for perfection.

The P Word is at the Bush Theatre until 22 October

Photo Credit: Craig Fuller



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