Sociology lecturer Shamser Sinha has a decade's experience working with young asylum seekers, so it's no surprise that this informs his debut full-length play, Khadija is 18. It focuses on two 17-year-old unaccompanied refugees, Khadija (Aysha Kala) from Afghanistan, whose whole family were killed; and Liza (Katherine Rose Morley) from an unnamed Eastern European country, who is pretending that her baby sister is her daughter, in an attempt to get them both asylum. We spend six months with them as they worry about the usual teenage issues like their college classes and Khadija's relationship with Ade (Victor Alli.) But their refugee status means they also have to deal with additional problems like sub-minimum wage jobs, Liza's isolation looking after the baby, and people like Ade's friend Sam (Damson Idris,) who spouts tabloid opinions about benefit-cheating "refs." And above it all loom their 18th birthdays, when Immigration will decide if they can stay in the UK.
In Khadija is 18, Sinha has made an admirable attempt to put a real human, vulnerable face on a maligned and forgotten section of society; and Aysha Kala is excellent in the title role. But that's about all I can find to recommend the play. Unfortunately I just found it all very dull - 90 minutes of teenagers shouting at each other about a thin plot with no surprises. The brutal final scene is moving and unflinchingly performed, but gets little of its power from all that's gone before. And with the characters and story not engaging me, I was easily distracted by the lack of attention to detail in Tim Stark's production (is properly miming putting a disk into a games console really too much to ask?) and the script's internal logic (if Liza and the baby arrived before Khadija, who's had time to completely lose her accent, why is the baby not at the very least a toddler by now?) It deals with a worthwhile subject and, having won a playwrighting competition, has clearly impressed some people; but for me this is a rare misfire from the Finborough.
Khadija is 18 by Shamser Sinha is booking until the 24th of November at the Finborough Theatre.