Playwright Rabiah Hussain reflects on the origins of her exhilarating debut play Spun. Telling the story of two British Pakistani friends from East London, she wants to readdress how we look at representation and truthfulness around South Asian narratives.
After months of staring at words on the page, rehearsals for Spun have been a welcome break. I’ve been sitting in on rehearsals and watching the incredibly talented team bring the play to life.
I wrote Spun in 2016 as a way of writing a story that would show British Asian Muslim women in a different way to how I’ve seen them. Of course, it’s up to the audience to decide whether or not I’ve succeeded in doing this, but this story was important for me to tell. Away from the extremes and stereotypes we see of British Asians, particularly the women, I wanted to tell a story that sits in the ‘middle’. Spun isn’t about anyone becoming a terrorist, going to Syria or even becoming an activist. It’s the simple story of two best friends leaving university and embarking on their careers against the backdrop of the political and social events of 2005 and 2006. It’s a story that shows how extremes can affect those who have nothing to do with them.
Spun is also about London. It’s about the disparity of the city I saw when I first left university and started working in central London, having grown up in Newham in a predominantly South Asian and working-class area. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have women of South Asian descent involved in the process of Spun. Both actresses, Humaira Iqbal and Aasiya Shah, are second-generation British Asian Muslim women, as well as Khadija Reza, the set designer. All three are also from East London. What they have brought to the play is their unique and true experiences of London through their own eyes.
The play looks at microaggressions in the workplace and how they can change someone’s sense of self. I’m sure many people of colour will have heard the words, “Yeah, but where are you really from?” and know how they can other you and make you question your place in the city.
Spun is an incredibly important play for me and I hope it reflects the experiences of those from a similar background as me. It’s a story I had to tell. A story about strong women finding their way in a spinning world.