We take a look at what critics have had to say about Waleed Akhtar’s new play…

(c)Craig Fuller

WhatsOnStage: *** “The script feels slightly unfocused, prone to overreaching: there are points which tantalise, at which the two argue on the credibility of gay asylum seekers, or homophobia as a colonial inheritance. You want to know how they came to these opinions, to allow us deeper into them as fully-realised characters, but there doesn’t seem to be time.”

The Guardian: **** “We get the Bollywood ending that the play knowingly drives towards but which it undercuts in the same breath to make a point about asylum. This over-emphatic moment is not needed – we get the message through the story itself. But if this is a slightly scrappy drama, it bewitches with hope, romance and heart.”

Pink News: “When the two men’s stories collide, we see a gorgeous exploration of how community makes us better people, helps us to deal with our trauma and find hope for the future. Akhtar and Alladi’s chemistry is magnetic – Billy is full of heart, even when he’s putting on a braggadocios facade, and Zafar speaks every word with his heart on his sleeve. Just when you think the script is veering into too neat of a happy ending, it pulls back to powerful, devastating effect. The message is spelled out clearly, just in case it wasn’t already so: the Home Office is condemning LGBTQ+ people to death by refusing them asylum, and it cannot be allowed to continue.”

West End Best Friend: **** “This is a beautifully formed play, with all elements of acting, movement, direction and design coming together to form a perfect seesaw between these two connected but different lives.”

The Stage: *** “Waleed Akhtar’s two-hander about being Pakistani and gay gives voice to the people behind the headlines”

Time Out: ***** “Akhtar is so adept at mingling stinging political critique and carefully-crafted storytelling that he makes it look easy, but it’s really not. Plays like this are rare, and this story deserves to have a wide audience fall in love alongside its awkwardly blossoming protagonists.”

The Times: **** “It both is and isn’t your standard rom-com. On the “is” side: Waleed Akhtar’s two-man show depicts the unlikely burgeoning friendship between two thirtysomethings of Pakistani origin who meet at a gay pride rally. Opposites attract, so we have the Londoner Bilal, a vain gym bunny who is busy on Grindr but has never had a relationship and who has no time for tradition. “That word again!” chides Zafar, his less sexy, more conservative new friend, as Bilal uses “the P word” (“Pakistani”, or rather its mocking diminutive) too readily.”

Broadway World: ***** “The whole show is a tightly woven blend of acute observational humour, heartstopping drama, and chilling social commentary; Akhtar has so much to say, and somehow he manages to express himself with great skill and heart in approximately 80 minutes of stage time. He gives an eager audience the euphoria of a Hollywood ending, before pulling the rug from under them – the crash back to reality leaves everyone stunned.”

Theatre Weekly: “The P Word is part gay Bollywood romcom, part nail-biting thriller, and part tragic documentary of the inhumane treatment of gay asylum seekers, or asylum seekers in general, at the hands of the UK Government. In addition to this, it highlights the deep-seated racism, homophobia and bigotry that runs deep in British society. That being said, it is an uplifting, heartwarming and incredibly funny piece of theatre. However, as you leave the theatre you cannot ignore the bitter taste left in your mouth at the reminder that change is still needed.”

The Spy in the Stalls: *** “The P Word finds its emotional core within the extended and mostly uninterrupted scenes between Bilal and Zafar. Bilal confronts his internalized prejudices, while Zafar begins to heal from the murder of his partner, Haroon. These scenes are both tender and emotionally fraught, blissfully banal and high stakes. To see the moments of queer joy that are portrayed here is truly a pleasure.”

The P Word continues to play at the Bush Theatre until the 22nd October.


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