Vault Festival: If This Is Normal


Pit at The Vaults, Leake Street Tunnels, Waterloo.


25-28 Feb, 6pm.


Written by Lucy Danzer, directed by Helena Jackson. Sets by Lorraine Terry, lighting by Jennifer Rose, sound by Nicola Chang. Produced by Chatback Theatre. Performed by Aoife Smyth, Isambard Rawbone and Zarima McDermont.

Publicity image for If This Is Normal


“Growing up in Kilburn, siblings Madani, Maryam and school friend Alex hit it off from the moment they meet. 10 years later, playful chats about bobble pens have been kicked out by teen opinions powered by podcasts, porn and politics”.


If This Is Normal deals with issues around friendship and maturity, as a pair of Muslim immigrant siblings grow up through secondary school with their white friend, until an attraction develops (not the one I expected) and events prove to have a devastating impact on all of them.

Following the trio from nervous and clumsy Year 5 pupils to fully-formed 18 year olds, this play covers a range of scenes and allows us to see inside each of the characters in turn as they interact with each other and with us, the audience.

Maryam is clever, brimming with facts and sexually confident. Alex is quick to fight but is also fastidiously loyal to her friends, while Madani is unsure of his place as the “man” of his traditional family.

With a lot of universal childhood and teenage themes from being scared on the first day of ‘big’ school to the awkwardness of first fumbles between the sheets, If This Is Normal starts with wry smiles and laughs before taking a serious turn.

Zarima McDermott, Isambard Rawbone, Aoife Smyth in If This Is Normal
Zarima McDermott, Isambard Rawbone, Aoife Smyth in If This Is Normal

Madani’s turns in the gym serve to contain the aggression he’s learned from a violent father and to anchor him to his mentor, Phil. Alice and Maryam giggle together like the best friends they are, drinking at their school leaving party and talking about boys.

Lucy Danser’s play considers both cultural and universal issues around telationships and friendships, and gives each character a hearing. As Madani and Alex find a mutual attraction, we hear from both sides after their first experimentation takes them into murky waters.

Helena Jackson directs her actors with sensitivity, utilising the aisle, steps and stage spaces of the Pit to great effect. All three cast members convince as children and as young adults, but I felt Isambard Rawbone caught the disparity between the boy who thinks what he sees on his phone screen is love and the man who just wants to be decent.

Zarima McDermott’s Maryam is an excellent portrayal of a modern Pakistani girl who wears revealing clothes and knocks back booze, while Aoife Smyth’s Alex collapses inside her tough core when she loses control over her own body.

Judgement: Wow, Meow, or Furred Brow?

It’s a Wow for If This Is Normal, which brings the female voice and perspective to the fore without demonising the male. It brings out the conflicts between traditional immigrant families and their assimilated children, and believably explores the complexity of puberty and beyond.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see If This Is Normal.