I went to see The P Word at Bush Theatre.
At the Theatre there is also currently a display of photographs.
The play is in the main Holloway Theatre, arranged with a central stage and seating on all 4 sides.
The central circular stage can rotate, and for most of the first Act the 2 actors occupy distinct halves, performing distinct scenes from each other in sequence. There are no significant props other than the embroidery that Zafar works on occasionally; along with the changes of clothes and Bilal’s water bottle it is stored in compartments recessed in the floor, so there is no clutter. The actors get to address all the banks of seating as the stage revolves during Act One, and the more active scenes when they meet at Pride, and their later journeys together are also in motion. There are lighting effects to indicate the energy and ambience of clubs and the march. Other voices, usually the immigration authorities and Police, can be heard from recordings playing in from the sides. After the end of the play we exit to a recording from an interview with Priti Patel.
Bilal, who prefers to be known as Billy, is a gay man living in London, disgruntled with the transient hookups he is getting. He has never been in a serious living-together relationship, and now he is 31 the whole club scene is getting a bit too much for him, as he realises during the later trip to Brighton. He studied Business at college and now works in the fashion industry, where he is dissatisfied at being “the only POC in the room” during work meetings. He is not completely estranged from his family but conditions are frosty when he meets them.
Zahar also studied Business at university in Lahore, and went to work in the family textile factory. But his dad found out he was having a relationship with Haroon, who was killed. Zahar has had to flee to Britain and is completely disowned by his family. He now has to stay in a hostel in Hounslow and isn’t allowed to have visitors. Whilst his appeal against the rejection of his asylum application is in progress, his latest lawyer suggests he attends Pride as evidence that he really is gay, despite what the Home Office’s official sceptics think. That’s how he accidentally meets Billy, who is initially hostile. But their relationship slowly grows.
Encouraged by Zafar, Billy starts watching TV dramas such as Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar Hai which he previously ignored. Zafar also urges him to look at more recent Bollywood than just the old classics, as “some of the new ones are really good, if you ignore all the Islamophobia”. Billy is also getting educated out of suspicions about asylum seekers he has absorbed.
But this isn’t a sentimental feel-good story, and there is a row between the two that seems to trigger on the issue that they haven’t got around to discussing, which is that there is a class difference between them that has been suspended by Zafar’s indeterminate status, but seems to be the problem when Billy finally wants to move beyond friendship and jump into a serious relationship like he’s never done before. In the final act, Zafar’s asylum case gets decided, and action speeds up to a grand climax… and then an Epilogue that breaks the 4th wall to remind us it’s not all happy ever after.