Review: Jabala and the Jinn (Belgrade Theatre, online)

Jabala (Natalie Davies), a young Muslim girl in Bradford, lives with her dad, her mum having died just a few months before.

She finds it hard to fit it at school, at first renaming herself Ruth to be “more English”, but gravitates to friendship with a refugee boy (Jay Varsani), who speaks little of the language but can help her with a mysterious Arabic voice she hears in the house.

Sarah (Safiyya Ingar), a Jinn, is conjured up by the pair and becomes a transient friend, but she also brings conflict and upset in her quest to be human. She is a very physical being: climbing, jumping, racing, just as you expect a supernatural force to behave when it has escaped from a bottle (as in the old tales of genii) or, in this case, from a bedroom “in the cracks of your attic”.

Set in the living room of Jabala’s house and in the school playground, the cast of three (Jabala’s dad and the refugee boy are both played, excellently, by Varsani) engage in a piece of drama which explores complex themes on growing up, honesty, and friendship.

Davies is completely convincing in the role of the seven-year old, while Ingar’s Jinn, 700 hundred years old in our calculations, has to figure out how she should behave in the human world if she wants to be accepted. At one point, her fantastic and powerful forces get the better of her, frightening the children and making herself wretched. A lovely, multi-layered performance.

We get a hint of Jabala’s loneliness, but apart from her thinking the disembodied voice of the Jinn may initially be her mother, we do not get a sense of her own feelings of loss. Her father, thought, appears distracted and numb, left to raise a curious and cheeky daughter on his own. From what we see, he is doing a great job.

Jabala and the Jinn is a very colourful and bright tale. Just look at those sets (designed by Mila Sanders, lit by Aideen Malone) bursting with primary colours – they emphasise the worth of myth and story to assist in dealing with catastrophic life events. When Jabala seeks the approval of her English classmate, she shows a lack of friends as a weakness; but once she clicks with Munir (who seeks to understand “Shak-a-spear”) her sense of fun and family returns, culminating at Eid Mubarak with sandwiches and showtime.

Writer Asif Khan created this show to present his culture and experience, and this comes across well. The drama is playful, even though it deals with death and some scary subjects: so it is completely suitable for families while presenting possibilities for further discussion. The music by James Hesford blends the familiar with new melodies, while Rosamunde Hutt’s direction centres on the theatricality of the piece to good effect.

You can book a ticket to stream Jabala and the Jinn here until 24 April 2021; it is recommended for children aged 5 and above and the running time is just short of an hour. Purchase options are available for schools as well as individuals.

Image credit: Mila Sanders

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Jabala and the Jinn.