Asif Khan
AIK Productions and Tara Arts
Arcola Theatre

Ali (Rez Kempton), Faisal (Mitesh Soni) and Samina (Shirheen Farkhoy) Credit: Talula Shepphard
Combustion Credit: Talula Shepphard
Shirheen Farkhoy, Rez Kempton, Mitesh Soni and Beruce Khan Credit: Talula Shepphard

The Rochdale grooming scandal became notorious not only because of the extent to which the authorities had failed to protect vulnerable young women who were being brought to their attention but also because it was seized upon by people claiming that the crime was a particular problem of Muslim communities.

Asif Khan’s Combustion explores the different responses of a group of Muslims to a fictional but similar scandal taking place in Bradford.

The play is mostly set in Shaz’s (Beruce Khan) mechanic's shop and begins on the eve of what they hope will be Eid. They talk about Shaz’s marriage prospects and how they will celebrate Eid.

Much of the conversation is initially light and comic with the amiable but slightly naive Faisal (Mitesh Soni) being the brunt of many of the jokes. Ali (Rez Kempton) seems to enjoy making fun of him but Shaz takes a kinder approach to Faisal.

When Ali suggests they go to the snooker hall the following day, Fiasal tells them it is closed because of a planned English Defence League protest march against a Bradford sexual abuse scandal.

A number of Muslims have been arrested for their treatment of the twelve-year-old Girl T who has been raped, burned with cigarettes and forced to have an abortion.

Shaz wants to avoid trouble so decides to close the shop that day. Ali thinks they should go and fight the EDL and is sceptical about the claim that some Muslim men are to blame for sexual grooming.

Shaz’s sister Samina (Shirheen Farkhoy), a young student wearing a hijab who arrives during their discussion, intends to speak at the counter demonstration.

Determined to also tackle the crime itself, she is setting up a community organisation to raise awareness. Claiming “the Quran says create dialogue... especially (with) those you disagree with”, she manages to persuade a white EDL member Andy (Nigel Hastings) to come to her meetings.

The play gives us a sensitive and compassionate depiction of a range of responses to the revelation of local sexual abuse that includes the protective, socially responsible Shaz who just wants to get on with his life and Samina who takes risks to change what she regards as an issue in her community. Yet even they can fail to spot an abuser who they believe they knew well.

Occasionally, things happen and political arguments take place which feel unlikely. They are perhaps driven more by good political objectives than dramatic effectiveness. This is particularly the case with the development of Andy, the EDL member.

However the cast give clear warm and convincing performances that are ably directed by Nona Shepphard. I found the scene in which Shaz gently talks through with Fiasal a difficult decision especially moving.

The play doesn’t explain very much about the causes of abusive grooming or the EDL, and it is dramatically burning on a low light, but it is still an engaging, necessary drama that people should see.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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