Salaam is a new play debuting at Vaults festival which explores Islamophobia and identity through a mother and daughter relationship.
Shortly after the Manchester Arena terrorist attack, Mariam (Yasmine Wilde) and her daughter Rema (Raagni Sharma) are celebrating the first day of Ramadan when a bloody pig’s head is thrown at the house – shattering not only their window but their lives.
As the terrorist attacks continue and Islamaphobia increases, Rema begins to question her identity as a Muslim woman in this compelling all-female play.
In an interview with South West Londoner, London-born writer and director Sara Aniqah Malik, explained: “Salaam is about the struggle for identity and realisation that identity isn’t just one thing. That’s the journey that the main character goes down.” Inspired by her own journey, the play began as a personal catharsis and desire to reconcile Malik’s own internal conflict.
Reflecting on Ramadan, Malik said: “I felt very safe and was learning a lot at home but then I would step outside and feel like a target because of the terrorism. I was perceived in a negative way due to Islamaphobic stereotypes and the contrast was really troubling.”
Similarly, while Rema eagerly tries to spiritually connect with her religion, she battles to understand how others are harming people in the name of that very same religion. As the terrorist attacks continue, her mother faces an Islamaphobic assault outside the mosque, further adding to Rema’s distress.
The playful relationship between Rema and Mariam is a delight as we see a daughter eagerly mirror her mother’s Ramadan rituals despite the words of her mother tongue sticking like tar in her mouth.
An unexpected friendship between Rema and Ellie (Laura Waldren) also offers hope as Ellie sincerely tries to help the family after their window is smashed.
The all-female cast was a very intentional move by Malik, who was surprised at the amazing strength amongst the women she interviewed for the play.
“I think it comes from a resistance of talking about Islamaphobia because it’s a really scary, taboo topic to talk about. But you’re not facing it head on because the power structures in this country are built against us. There’s no real avenue for us to step on to actually tackle these issues,” mused Malik.
From another perspective, Salaam was also inspired by Malik’s disappointment at the lack of representation at an Edinburgh Fringe Festival play about Muslim people.
“It played into a lot of stereotypes and I realised that the whole production team were non-Muslim. I was quite infuriated by that. If we’re going to tell these stories, we should be careful about who is telling them,” explained Malik.
However, The Vault Festival gave Malik the space to tell her story without fear of being tokenised through their championing of new and diverse voices. The location of a disused underground tunnel also adds great atmosphere to the production as you hear the rumbling of the tube above you.
Yet the accompanying musical composition by Kristina Arakelyan keeps the audience entranced, particularly with vocalist, Megan McArthur’s soulful voice. Alongside violinist, Edie Bailey, this all-female team successfully draws you into Salaam’s world.
Although in its early stages, Salaam is an intimate story which raises questions about identity, religion, gender and mental health with a heart-warming and honest script.
Salaam is on until 3 February. For more information visit: https://vaultfestival.com/
Feature image credit: Tristram Kenton.
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