Friday, 13 April 2018

REVIEW: Coconut at the Ovalhouse

“Coconut” is a brand-new show about Rumi, a British-Pakistani young woman who becomes torn between pleasing her Muslim family and pursuing her love story with a white guy. It is produced by The Thelmas, an intersectional, female led and a New Diorama Theatre Emerging Company. This show, which is refreshing and catches you off guard is not to be missed.

Meet Rumi (played by Kuran Dohil): she is a twenty-something British-Pakistani who does admin work but is also a food blogger. Although she was raised a Muslim, she eats bacon and drinks alcohol. Some people call her a Coconut, because she’s brown on the outside and white on the inside! 

She also has an imaginary friend, Riz (Tibu Fortes), who she shares her frustrations about life with, especially when it comes to men. After going to a Halal Speed Dating event, she meets Simon (Jimmy Carter) in a bar. The two fall for each other, and start spending more and more time together, away from Rumi’s family’s eyes. After a few months, she makes it clear to Simon that if they are to be together and get married, he needs to convert to Islam. Simon, whose mother has just died after a long illness, is ready for a new start in his life and accepts the conversion. Soon enough, Simon develops a taste for his new religion and, wanting to practice it correctly, starts worrying Rumi with the extent of his enthusiasm. 

What makes this play truly stand out is the quality of the writing by Guleraana Mir. What I loved was that it shatters stereotypes and gives a fresh look at life choices and issues that I personally do not really know. I do not have any friends who have converted to Islam so far, although I have seen some people in the streets handing out leaflets about Islam and offering help, as is shown in this play. What I also enjoyed was the warmth of the Imaam (also played by Fortes) and the loving messages of the Quran that are explained to us (in a very concise way!).

At the same time, the play is very funny and can also go into very dark moments, such as when Simon wants to force his new wife Rumi to follow his new adopted ways. When she does not submit, we realise that so often in the media, we see women submitting to their husbands, and it is incredibly refreshing to see Rumi stand her ground over and over again.

This production is also reinforced by director Madelaine Moore who lets us really enjoy the flirtation between Rumi and Simon as well as their ups and downs. The scene where the two go from looking at the stars to him withdrawing from her for fear of being abandoned by her is a striking example. 

What’s more, Rumi is an incredibly funny character, unique and beautiful, and we love her more with every second. The actress Kuran Dohil makes her professional stage debut here and she is fantastic. She is warm, has her own point of view, and shows a perfect balance between young innocence and passionate opinion. 

Jimmy Carter is strong as Simon and shows anxiety and low self-confidence at times while his relationship grows with Rumi. It is haunting how Carter’s face can go from silly to very dark in a second. In a sense, Simon is holding onto something after his mother dies by blindly committing to rules without really listening to his wife. The final scene of them meeting is heart-breaking but very hopeful. 

Tibu Fortes is excellent as Riz and the Imaam. He shows cunning and wisdom as the genie-like imaginary friend, and is calm and loving as the Imaam. The three actors together form a lovely ensemble. 

The stage design by Baska Wesolowska is practically created with furniture on wheels, elegantly teaming up with the sound, for example when the bacon is cooking.

This play is very contemporary, and we recognise characters walking down the streets around us, which adds to it pulling the audience in. It offers a gaze into a community which may not always be familiar and it is wonderful when theatre does this. I cannot recommend “Coconut” enough!

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Free seating (1strow) | Price of Ticket: £15
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