Friday, 21 February 2014

Second chance to catch some Speed: a sharp new play about sex, sexuality, race, class and - scariest of all - contemporary dating

I first met Iman Qureshi when she compered a night of lesbian and gay literature at the Vauxhall Tavern, where I was speaking at a panel event, alongside Paul Burston, founder of the Polari Prize. Charismatic and witty, Iman not only talked on and talked off all the acts, she also wrote the evening up for Diva magazine (warning: contains an ancient, sunbleached image of me looking like an eight year old alien who was brought up by wolves in a forest). The previous day she'd been at Wormwood Scrubs prison, "talking to the offenders about being gay." As someone who does prison work let me just say: that's a tough gig.

Having worked around the media since moving to London after her postgrad a few years ago, Qureshi has now turned playwright. She premiered her first play, Speed, at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden from 3rd - 7th December 2013. It had a sold out run and is now back on again for two weeks, from Tuesday 25th February until Saturday 8th March 2014.

A scene from Speed, the new play be Iman Qureshi

Produced by Kali Theatre, who develop thrilling new plays by women writers of a South Asian background - National Theatre, are you listening? Women's work is to be showcased, not aggressively ignored - Speed was originally part of the 2013 Talkback Festival,. No surprise to discover that Speed combines the topicality, wit and political freshness of its author. 

Another scene from Speed
As Iman Qureshi describes it herself, 
It's a bittersweet comedy set at a speed dating event, and deals with deeper issues of race, sexuality, class and gender. Speed was born of my experience of leaving the safe, artificial confines of university and moving out into the real world. Suddenly all the theories I read about – class privilege, male privilege, white privilege, heterosexual privilege – became actual, lived struggles.

My naive bubble of belief that women can do anything men can do, deflated with every cat call, every tired cliche about lifting the veil and every statistic and experience which indicated the existence of a glass ceiling. It slowly became quite apparent that who you knew meant everything. What you knew meant very little. My hope that racial equality had been achieved was promptly destroyed when it was once suggested that my name was too unusual to sign off with when sending out emails to strangers.

Speed is a play of people railing against the cages that society constructs for them. Whether it’s an intelligent woman exhausted by a world which reduces her to an object, or a person who rejects the gender role they are assigned at birth, or someone whose heritage leaves deep scars upon their sense of self worth, the characters in Speed are united by the common struggle of identity in a world which loves to box people in. 
Speed dating seemed to be the perfect mechanism to tell these stories. What is less reductive that five minutes to sell yourself to a prospective partner? Five minutes to decide whether to invest in the stranger sitting across from you when all you have is essentially a CV - age, job, hobbies, religion. Speed dating is also a microcosm of a world where love is just another commodity. Where finding a partner becomes yet another box to tick on our ‘To Do’ list of life. Where real human connections often lose out to the pursuit of contrived fairy tale endings.

I was also eager to give brown people the dignity of being represented without tired cliches or cultural stereotypes. Speed, I hope, is light years apart from narratives of extremism or arranged marriage. It is a play about Asians not thinking of themselves as Asian and of their place in modern Britain, but rather thinking of themselves as people.

Speed will be on at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden from Tuesday 25th February until Saturday 8th March 2014 . Click here to book.