It’s important for remember that the Festival Fringe is about freedom of expression, and it’s in this spirit that a play like Outcast should be viewed and reviewed. Dundee University’s LIP Theatre Company – entirely student-led – have produced a thought-provoking piece.
Two sisters in their early twenties discuss issues of race and identity, and of being born in a country where they don’t feel they entirely belong. The older sister, Hania, dresses in jeans and blouse while the younger, Zulaikha, wears the hijab. Hania is intent on finding her own husband, while Zulaikha accepts the possibility of an arranged marriage. Their differences are exacerbated by another important factor: their mother is a British Muslim convert.
While the father never appears on stage, a tragic incident at his work-place changes the lives and perceptions of the women, and also reveals the huge racial tensions that exist both inside and outside the home. Even the close friend of the family, ‘Aunty May,’ puts her foot in it when she casts aspersions on ‘foreigners.’
A further exploration of mixed-race comes in the character of Faisal, also a white-British Muslim, who is viewed as a possible match for Zulaikha – but things aren’t that simple. It’s not only small-minded or pre-Brexit ignorance about immigrant families, but the differences within these communities that challenge people.
To feel like an outcast in one’s own country is tough, but the vital factor in this is clearly voiced by Zulaikha: we are not meant to judge each other. Likewise, it would be wrong to judge the production too harshly, as they have put together a piece of well-meaning work.
Where the cast struggle most is with the venue. In a stuffy, pokey room in the Apex Hotel that can barely describe itself as a theatre-space, there is little room for the actors to do much more than awkwardly deliver their lines. It could be that Sweet Venues, or more likely, the hotels that host them, get plenty out of amateur groups financially-speaking.
But people like the LIP Theatre Company get so much more: the freedom to express issues that clearly matter to them – and should matter to us, especially at a time when a former Foreign Secretary sees fit to insult people who choose to dress according to tradition.
Outcast, Venue 18, Sweet Grassmark, 17.15, until August 12