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What Fatima Did…

Published 28 October 2009

Social stereotyping, friendship and cultural beliefs are all brought under the microscope in Atiha Sen Gupta’s provocative new drama What Fatima Did… at the Hampstead theatre.

It is the week before twins Fatima and Mohammed’s 18th birthday. The first of their close-knit friendship group to leave childhood, expectations are high for a wild night to symbolise their ascension to adulthood. But when the smoking and drinking Fatima arrives at school wearing the hijab and offers no explanation as to why she has decided to adopt it, their whole world is turned upside down.

With no reason to be politically correct to one another after having spent the last seven years in a classroom together, the friends do not quietly accept the sudden presence of the religious clothing; rather, the thin piece of material creates a new impenetrable skin for Fatima that causes her loved ones to no longer see the girl beneath.

Indian, Pakistani, Muslim, black, white – the group represents all these, yet their friendly banter in thick South London accents becomes more serious with the arrival of Fatima’s new commitment. Whereas it was acceptable for feisty Aisha to call Mohammad “Muslim boy” at the beginning of the play or to poke fun at George’s Irish parents – and in turn acceptable for the audience to laugh along – soon the lines of what is and isn’t offensive become increasingly blurred.

Gupta’s play addresses a very relevant section of today’s society. Fatima and Mohammad have been given Muslim names they are not expected to live up to, no more than their mother would expect to have to give up her red wine, go back to her demanding husband and step inside a Mosque. Aisha views the hijab as being stained with blood, generations above her having fought for her right not to have to wear it. Because the colour of their skin or their parents’ cultures had never before been relevant, Fatima’s decision to embrace something from her culture is as alien and unexpected to them as if she’d decided to paint herself green.

With Fatima never seen, her presence is felt on stage like a ghost and seen on the faces of her friends through anxiety, confusion and anger. Family, faith, fashion and politics are all called into question as the struggle for acceptance and independence is shown to be universal, no matter what the colour of your skin or your descendants’ history might be.



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