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Khadija is 18

Shamser Sinha
Esther Nissard for B29 Productions
Finborough Theatre

Aysha Kala as Khadija in Khadija is 18 Credit: Robert Workman
Katherine Rose Morley as Liza in Khadija is 18 Credit: Robert Workman
Left Victor Ali (Ade) and right Damoson Idris (Sam) in Khadija is 18 Credit: Robert Workman

What begins as a slightly dubious teen drama transforms into the moving, personal story of Khadija; a 17-year-old refugee from Afghanistan.

The script (Shamser Sinha) is full of ‘typical’ teenage banter and cultural references, but there is the sense that just below the fragile surface of teenage-life ‘normality’, serious and life-threatening decisions are being made—decisions which will and do directly affect young people who are fleeing from their home countries to the supposedly safer shores of Britain, often unaccompanied by parents or other family members.

This tight-knit, young cast are compelling and communicate clearly the plight of young refugees, who struggle with the complex bureaucracy of British immigration policies.

Khadija (Aysha Kala) is an opinionated, independent young woman who knows only too well the consequences of turning 18; she will no longer be considered a minor and so the protection of the state will be lifted and deportation will surely follow. Although if the Home Office can only find her papers, this might be avoided.

Khadija lives with Liza (Katherine Rose Morley) another 17-year-old refugee from an unspecified Eastern European country, and between them they have caught the attention of two young black boys from Hackney: Sam (Damson Idris) and Ade (Victor Alli). Unlike Khadija and Liza, Sam and Ade do not have to deal with the struggles of learning a new language, culture and customs.

Kala plays Khadija with sensitivity and respect, giving a voice to this girl who must surely be based on real life young refugees. Playwright Sinha is a lecturer in sociology and youth studies; he has spent a decade doing research into young asylum seekers and vulnerable teenagers in London. It is clear that he must have met countless young men and women who would just like to stay in a country which, although not “home” as Liza says, is still far better than the place they have come from.

The well-timed double-act of Ade and Sam, is revealed to be far more complex than first thought, Ade is in a relationship with Khadija but struggles to handle both this and Sam’s apparent prejudice against refugees like Khadija and Liza. Alli and Idris perform this intricate dynamic with excellent understanding and energy.

In the compact Finborough space, director Tim Stark utilises movable blocks (design by Fly Davis) to create a variety of different spaces as the action moves between college, a cinema, bedrooms and finally a hospital. At times the volume of arguments ends up on 11 for a little too long, which means that the dialogue becomes uninteresting; Stark could take a leaf out of playwright and director debbie tucker green’s book when it comes to handling the rhythms of human speech, particularly during confrontations.

Sinha says in his dedication that the play is for the “apparently illiterate, immoral young people at the wrong end of money and the wars we fight”. Khadija is 18 is certainly a fitting tribute.

Reviewer: Anna Jones