In a riff of the cult movie classic The Breakfast Club, Dugsi Dayz sees High School detention swapped in for a Dugsi detention in a London mosque, where four female Somalian teenagers are sentenced to a Saturday of Islamic teachings, as comeuppance for their misbehaviour. As the young girls await the arrival of the Macalin (Somali word for teacher), they cipher through the rumour mill to figure out how the other ended up there. Comedy meets ethnography in this astute portrayal of young Somali women, which is simultaneously a relatable and hilarious depiction of female camaraderie.
The play’s plot is simple and does not rely on complex devices or detailed plot progression. It is the characters and their interactions with one another that make it such a compelling watch. The realism of the dialogue and the relationships between the young girls in this context makes sense when you discover that the show’s writer and one of the actors, Sabrina Ali, a Somali woman, attended dugsi detentions when she was a teenager in South West London. As a result, the characters feel as though they have been transported from real life, and are released from the shackles of stereotype that often befall Muslim women in theatre and screen. While the setting is religious, their conversations span from balayages, to teenage pregnancies, to modern subversions of folk tales. When they do touch on religion and their Somali community, the dialogue is embedded with all the nuances and contradictions that one would expect from young people, religious or not. There is a lot of humour in the girls’ own dealing with Islam; Salam’s haphazard decision that something is ‘haram’ and when Hani is ordered to write a sick note in Arabic and defiantly scribbles, ‘suck your mum’.
Although the four girls are stock characters – there’s the teacher’s pet, Salam, and the phone-obsessed, ever so slightly clueless Yasmin – they play off one another with a dynamism that reminded me of my own teenage friendships. The audience is invited to pay witness to these unique relations, with all their history, grudges, backchat and banter. The performers have such a natural chemistry with one another and there are many moments of comedy gold in these interactions. Ali is an excellent comedic actor. She shines as Munira, the classroom clown and chief gossip, with the lines flowing off her tongue with such teenage zippiness. Whilst for most of the play, the informality of the interactions is a joy to watch, there are moments when the casualness leads to lines being lost, and an air of awkwardness when it was not clear if a line was scripted or improvised.
The play is stripped back and there is minimal lighting and sound – a rarity in an experimental Fringe environment. It simply relies on the women and their stories to fill the stage. The moments when the production steps up a gear, such as in the girls’ creation of their own folk tales, felt a little incongruous with the naturalism of the rest of the show. While I understand that these sound features heighten the sense that these are childish fantasies, it failed to engage me entirely, and I felt this part of the play could have been shorter.
That being said, the play does brilliantly in managing to be funny whilst giving air time to serious issues threatening young people in the Somali community. Amongst Munira’s unrelenting banter about Hani’s whereabouts comes Hani’s cutting truth that she was sent to dhaqan celis, a process in which Somali children are taken back to Somalia to be schooled in cultural values, and are often subject to physical and emotional abuse. Credit is due to Ali for creating a script that packs so much in and yet never feels heavy handed. In part this is because the issues are spoken in voices that feel authentically young, and a pithy quip or comedy moment is never far away. Thoughtful, amusing and razor-sharp – Dugsi Dayz both enlightens and entertains at every step.
Recommended Drink: A cold glass of coca cola – nostalgic, refreshing and warming all at the same time.
Catch Dugsi Dayz at Belly Button at Underbelly, Cowgate until 27th August at 12:40. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.