This is a double bill of short comic plays touching on religion and the vagaries of modern life with varying degrees of success. MUJU’s aim is to bring together Muslim and Jewish performers, channelling their creativity rather than their perceived differences, and they do a good job of poking fun at all the likely suspects- disapproving mothers and cross-cultural love affairs included. Part of MUJU’s appeal is that it is voluntary and uses non-professional contributors but at times this produces a stilted sense of plot and character.
The first play of the evening is Flirting With Faith, a devised piece directed by Waleed Akhtar and bringing together various members of the ‘MUJU Upstarts’ in a series of interlinked sketches about dating. The performances have charm and the structure works well, efficiently delivering a bit of pathos and a laugh before moving on to the next scene. No sketch is allowed to drag on too long and the laughs are punchy and pleasing.
Despite their brevity, these sketches prove not only to be funny but also suprisingly pertinent and touching. There is a freshness to the delivery which more than makes up for the lack of a tight script. We watch as the characters post video blogs on a dating website, meaning we hear their private thoughts as well as the wider context of their situations through the more developed ‘sitcom’ scenes. The Muslim girl in search of a lesbian lover who will share her faith, another girl so deluded by her ‘superiorty’ she becomes a lonely and tragic character and a man in search of some fun in a foreign city are all good archetypes and provide a fresh insight into the strange gap between how we present ourselves in reality and the freedom we feel to act ‘out of character’ through the impersonal safety of the internet.
Overall, it is well paced and interesting, with a lightness of touch which makes it easy for the audience to laugh along and accept the more serious underlying points it makes.
Ironically, of the two plays, it is the scripted My Dutiful Laundrette which struggles to make its point deftly. Yasmeen Kahn, who also performs in this play, is a promising playwright, but here the dialogue is limited and laboured, packing little real emotional punch. The set-up has potential: two siblings find themselves jointly responsible for their dead parents’ laundrette business. With entirely divergent views on what to do with it, they argue over the benefits of reviving the business for the sake of sentiment and cutting their losses and selling up. Complicating their conflict is bereavement and gender politics. Although touched upon, the themes are not developed sufficiently and threaten to become too diluted as new plot lines of half-hearted love interests are introduced but never resolved. Instead, a point once made is repeated rather than expanded upon, a habit which runs through the interesting but frustrating script.
There is not enough momentum through the script or the performances to give meaning to the conflicts and too often the real-time action of folding sheets and pairing socks is allowed to dominate the scene to the detriment of the drama. Silences and pauses in coversation, which are so much a part of real life, are not eliminated but are allowed to linger until scenes threaten to grind to an unseemly halt. Not only does the social point of the play suffer from this but the comic element is also lost through the timing.
This is a shame as the play does a good job of painting some very sweet relationships, particularly between Sam’na and Raphael Bar’s Joe, her longstanding friend, as well as with Marnie, who comes to the laundrette for sanctuary from her drab, empty flat. Likewise, while Sam’na is desperate to do justice to her parents’ life of hard work, her brother sees things in a more practical light and while at times he seems callous, a scene between them at the end of the play is successful in showing the sense in both perpectives. The trouble that comes from siblings’ disputes over the significance of their shared past is well highlighted in the scene and Kahn is effective at allowing the misunderstandings to reach a flawed but respectful resolution.
Supported by the Tricyle Theatre, MUJU has produced relevant and interesting plays successfully for many years. This double bill is an enjoyable, if imperfect, addition to a body of work which is certain to continue and remain relevant for a long time to come.