Ovalhouse, London – until 28 April 2018
Coconut: Slang. Disparaging and offensive. A person of colour, especially a person of Latin-American or South Asian origin or descent, who is regarded as having adopted the attitudes, values and behaviour thought to be characteristic of middle-class white society, at the expense of his or her ethnic heritage.
Written by Guleraana Mir and directed by Madelaine Moore, Coconut looks at Rumi (Kuran Dohil) a young woman in London and her efforts to find someone who truly complements her as a person and her lifestyle. To use her own terminology, she is ‘complicated’. Raised in the Muslim faith, she’s selective in terms of what she adheres to (no ban of bacon and alcohol for her!) though it’s not something she broadcasts to the community. Her one confidante is Riz (Tibu Fortes) – about the only person she can speak freely with.
After a disastrous evening spent at Halal Speed Dating, she slips into her local pub for a drink on the way home. Unbeknownst to her, Simon (Jimmy Carter) has a similar idea – having a quick pint before visiting his mother. Smoothing over their initial misunderstanding, they realise they like each other and want to make a go of it. So what next?
The early part of the play is light-hearted, though that doesn’t stop observational humour about cultural preconceptions being made. The second half, which could have gone any number of ways, goes down one particular route. All three actors play their respective parts well, though I thought that Carter’s Simon was very believable and grounds the play when it veers into very different territory.
As I just mentioned, the second half of the play that deals with coupledom could have gone down a number of different routes. Within the play, Rumi states that Simon has to convert to Islam. Her understanding of this is a verbal declaration by Simon to the local Imaam would be sufficient. However, to her surprise, Simon is expected to take regular classes to prove his conversion is genuine. Much to Rumi’s consternation, Simon treats this seriously, effectively becoming a more conscientious Muslim than she is. No more being able to ‘have her cake and eat it’ for Rumi…
From a dramatic point of view, it would have been interesting to see a situation where Rumi’s ‘brave enough’ to admit to her social circle of her ‘secular’ lifestyle. No doubt there would be adverse ramifications to this, but it would show a character who was 100% true to herself and not ‘hiding in plain sight’. It would also mean nobody else would have to change, which inadvertently is the price that’s paid for Rumi’s ‘trouble-free’ life…