Tag Archives: XANA

The P Word

The P Word


Bush Theatre

THE P WORD at the Bush Theatre


The P Word

“To see the moments of queer joy that are portrayed here is truly a pleasure”


The P Word, written by Waleed Akhtar, finds itself caught in the space between a two hander and a series of monologues. The play remains grounded, however, by its layered character and their wit.

Bilal, played by Akhtar, details to the audience his experiences as a British Pakistani man in the gay dating scene. He lets his prejudices, fatphobia and islamophobia in particular, be known early on, as well as sources of their internalization. Zafar, played by Esh Alladi, arrives onstage mid-trauma: engaged in an unsuccessful bid to seek asylum in the UK, his partner murdered, his life endangered by a homophobic father were he to be deported to Pakistan. The play only kicks into gear, however, when the two characters bump into one another in the middle of Soho during Pride.

The set, designed by Max Johns, is minimal and elegant. A raised, circular, rotating platform, carries the characters temporally through the play. Each half of the platform tilts in the opposite direction, and LED light illuminates the outline of each semicircle, enclosing Bilal and Zafar in their disparate experiences for the first half of the play. Small compartments built into the set facilitate quick changes, allowing both actors to remain onstage for the duration of the play. These transitions, however, can feel rushed, more marked than they are performed.

Before Bilal and Zafar meet, they communicate exclusively in parallel monologue. Most of the unseen characters in Zafar monologues—a stranger, his mother, a healthcare worker—make their presence known through voiceover. Akhtar steps outside of Bilal’s character with more regularity, voicing his hookups and co-workers, lending his monologues the quality of a one-person show. This particular directorial choice by Anthony Simpson-Pike could be intended to further distinguish Bilal and Zafar’s narratives, but it results in a garbled theatrical language. The formal discrepancy, along with the duration of the parallel monologue sections, lends a dragging and uneven quality to the first half of the play, despite strong performances from Akhtar and Alladi.

Even after Bilal and Zafar have had their chance encounter and begin to share scenes, these parallel monologues persist. The two characters frequently break from engaging moments of dialogue to speak directly to the audience, halting the pace of the second half. The P Word finds its emotional core within the extended and mostly uninterrupted scenes between Bilal and Zafar. Bilal confronts his internalized prejudices, while Zafar begins to heal from the murder of his partner, Haroon. These scenes are both tender and emotionally fraught, blissfully banal and high stakes. To see the moments of queer joy that are portrayed here is truly a pleasure.

In The P Word’s final moments, following a somewhat sensationalized and romanticized conclusion, the world of the play briefly cracks. Though the break seems to be inspired by works such as Jackie Sibblies Dury’s ‘Fairview’, it reads more like an admission than it does a true confrontation, inadvertently letting the audience and performance off the hook.



Reviewed on 14th September 2022

by JC Kerr

Photography by Craig Fuller



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Favour | ★★★★ | June 2022
Lava | ★★★★ | July 2021


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Animal Farm

Animal Farm


Royal and Derngate

Animal Farm

Animal Farm

Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Reviewed – 19th May 2021



“multi-talented young actors tell this compulsive and provocative story”


The Royal Theatre in Northampton re-opens with a superb production from the National Youth Theatre REP Company of George Orwell’s fairy tale/allegory adapted for the stage by Tatty Hennessy.

We are introduced to the main players with a recorded voice-over (Will Stewart). Each animal has been clearly well workshopped and is meticulously caricatured. There is no wearing of animal masks, and little crawling on all fours. Base costumes (Jasmine Swan) are adorned with small signifiers: the pigs wear pink gilets; Minty the sheep, a white tutu and woollen bobble hat; the horses, brown leather belts and straps.

The simplicity of the set (Jasmine Swan), a backdrop of hanging plastic strips, allows the flexibility of multiple entrance and exit points and when the light catches their mud and dirt it gives a looming feeling of the abattoir. Generally effective lighting (Zoe Spurr) includes the dramatic landing of a helicopter, sensational backlit scenes to cast warning shadows and the occasional dramatic use of colour.

Director Ed Stambollouian intersperses full ensemble pieces with scenes focusing on individual characters where each animal gets their turn in the limelight. Each animal could carry more of the story, but all animals are not equal. Napoleon (Jack Matthew) is the main man (pig!) – the self-proclaimed leader of the Revolution. His transformation from pig to man-equal is the more impressive as he fights the animalistic urge to slip back squealing into the mud. Squealer (Matilda Rae) is the political spin-doctor, beautifully conniving and deceitful. The carthorse Boxer (Will Atiomo) with his maxim of “I will work harder” shows fine vocal colour and excellent physical movement. Much of the narration falls upon the mare Clover (Adeola Yemitan) who shines in her poignant personal scene.

The full ensemble scenes are rhythmic and physical (choreography by Vicki Igbokwe) with inventive and ingenious uses of buckets and ladders although handling of the latter sometimes appears clumsy in the close confines of the Royal stage. The hip-hop dance scene counting the seven animal commandments particularly stands out and the singing of the anthem Beasts of England (Composer John Elliott, Musical Director Jordan Clarke) would not sound out of place sung from the barricades of another revolutionary stage show. Whilst the initial Revolution seems too easily won, the Battle of the Cowshed is brilliantly portrayed: animals in formation across all angles of the stage defeat the cartoonish Farmer Giles with kick-ass action (Fight Director Enric Fortuño).

The second half does not sustain the dynamisms of the first as the size of the ensemble reduces, but it does include the most unsettling scene of the evening involving the worrying use of metal pails which evoke shades of the Lubyanka and Guantánamo.

The writer hopes in her programme notes that the show will make us angry. We clearly see how the hard work of the proletariat is exploited by the autocracy, how the honesty of the workers’ revolution is betrayed by its leaders. We see the lies and scheming of politicians as they push through their own vanity projects, air brush history, and steal from the populace… But after seeing these multi-talented young actors tell this compulsive and provocative story on stage I came away primarily with a satisfied feeling that such stories are once again being told. The anger can come later.


Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Ali Wright


Animal Farm

Royal and Derngate, Northampton until 22nd May


Reviewed this year by Phillip:
The Money | ★★★ | Online | April 2021


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