Taking a female perspective on racial tensions in modern day Britain, Sara Aniqah Malk’s Salaam takes place during the Muslim fasting season of Ramadan. Mariam (Yasmin Wilde) is a devout Muslim and when she’s not actually fasting, she prays and reads from the Quran. In contrast, her daughter Rema (Raagni Sharma) finds the ‘devotional’ aspects of her faith difficult. However, what’s most taxing for Rema is fasting during the daylight hours – including the forbidden intake of water. But while Mariam finds comfort in her daily devotions, Rema’s idea of ‘soul-searching’ is to pour her thoughts and emotions into her creative writing – her own form of meditation.
While it is a completely different context, the way that food governs the women’s conversations in the play and when they’re allowed to eat reminded me of how many women follow the dictates of diets and ‘rules’, rather than what makes them happy.
Unlike some plays where emotions drive a chain of events, Salaam is about stillness in a chaotic world. While the women’s home in its own way is an ‘oasis’ of calm, news of the outside world interrupts their tranquility, the way a stone leaves ripples in water. The arrival of Ellie (Laura Waldren) – a girl who lives locally – brings news of terror attacks in London. For the women, two quesions come to mind: how many were injured… or worse and who has ‘owned up’ to being responsible…
While not at the forefront of the play, Salaam does address the ‘elephant in the room’ regarding men who commit violence in the name of Islam versus Islamophobia. By the same token, the play also also highlights the extreme actions by men on both sides and what power – if at all – women have in addressing this.
Ellie as a character is an important catalyst. Not only as a bringer of news from the ‘outside’, but as someone who isn’t part of ‘the community’ – of their secluded world. The friendship that blossoms proves to be ‘challenging’ at times, as Ellie’s ideas of what’s in Rema’s best interests and vice versa are very different.
As a ‘framing device’ for the whole play, the musical segments performed with vocalist Megan McArthur and violinist Edie Bailey wordlessly sustain the play’s contemplative ambience – conveying the tension and disparity between peace in one’s own space and a true, inner serenity.
© Michael Davis 2019
Salaam runs at the Vault Festval until 3rd February.