SALMAN AKHTAR opens in BLUE MIST at The Royal Court ★★★★

4 stars out of 5
Blue Mist review – dreamlike dive into Muslim demonisation
Royal Court Upstairs, London
An aspiring journalist comes up against the difficulties of accurately representing his shisha-going community in Mohamed-Zain Dada’s energetic debut

Arifa Akbar

This debut drama about the demonisation of Muslim identity begins as something of a bros comedy. Three young British Pakistanis meet in a shisha lounge to shoot the breeze and smoke the hookah. They talk about work, the old uncles at the mosque and dating. Asif (Salman Akhtar) and Rashid (Arian Nik) encourage the only university graduate between them, Jihad (Omar Bynon), to keep pursuing his dream of becoming a journalist even though he has tried and failed.
Jihad’s fortunes change when they give him the idea for a documentary about shisha lounges, and the camaraderie built among the largely male, Muslim community which inhabits them. So begins Jihad’s journey into selling himself to a podcast producer and selling out his friends. Fiona, from the production company, says she wants “authenticity of voice” but reshapes Jihad’s narrative to fit her news agenda around Muslim men’s apparent threat to society.

Excitingly directed by Milli Bhatia, it blends dream, hallucination and reality, and showcases an ambitious new playwright in Mohamed-Zain Dada. It shows, vividly, how writers of colour are asked to report on the same old issues and to follow an editorial line that rehashes reductive stereotypes. As an aspiring journalist, Rashid convinces himself that once he has gained entry, he will write to his own agenda. Truth and fake news is mentioned and the issue could not be more current, or urgent, amid rampant Islamophobia.
Characters speak in a colourful mash-up of Multicultural London English and Punjabi; not all the jokes work and the play has a slow start but some of the comedy zings and complex ideas are presented with verve. Tomás Palmer’s set design evokes the subterranean shisha lounge through neon lights and smoke but also transforms in exciting ways, gaining new parts.

Actors are agile and energetic, playing multiple parts and dancing or singing in interludes, although these feel latched on at times and sometimes performances feel slightly over-excitable.
Fiona tells Rashid that his shisha lounge story is really about South Asian Muslim masculinity. In the end, Dada’s play is about just that – but not in the way Fiona wants it to be.

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