(Originally published by What’s on Stage, Nov ’12)
Borders and fractions divide a group of Hackney teenagers in Shamsher Sinha’s full-length professional debut, which unpicks the plight of young asylum seekers, immobilised by uncertainty and fear. Khadija is 18 buzzes with energy and originality, but lacks the depth that the issue requires.
Khadija (Aysha Kala) is a feisty 17 year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan, whose looming 18th birthday will determine her fate and status. She has befriended Liza (Katherine Rose Morley), a fellow asylum seeker from an unknown Eastern European country, who is caring for a sibling she passes off as her own child to aid her case.
With very little exposition we look on, uncomfortably, as both girls rely heavily on each other, navigating their way through a life that’s etched with tension and powerlessness.
Their desperate circumstances are complicated further by their romantic entanglements with Ade (Victor Alli) and Sam (Damson Idris). Interfering and misogynistic Sam labels them as ‘refs’, whilst Ade grapples with his blossoming relationship with Khadija and her trying situation.
Against the back drop of Fly Davis’ concrete and soulless set, the cast offer sound performances of the battling teenagers. Kala’s perfectly pitched performance allows Khadija’s vulnerability to creep through the cracks of her hardened exterior.
Sinha’s promising debut offers a new angle on immigration. He expertly casts an eye (and ear) over the story of youth trapped in the asylum enclave. The lack of back-story does inhibit the overall impact. Snippets of detail are dropped in, but never fully explored. Liza declares “This place… is not home”, but home is never revealed, nor the circumstances which lead to her current situation. At the same time, the teenage angst can at times overpower the immigration issue and those seated in the front row may find themselves distracted by the often loud exchanges.
All this however, is redeemed by an affecting closing scene, in which Khadija’s story reaches a heart-wrenching conclusion.