Brixton House is a sparky new venue, in the centre of ever-gentrified Brixton, boasting superbly friendly staff. So, it’s a bit of a shame and a tragic oversight that the seating in the theatre is cramped, awkward and after a short time, quite uncomfortable. The café bar, in contrast, is a spacious, beautiful area with designer sofas and room to ponder, luxuriate and roller-skate, should the mood take you. Like going from EasyJet to private jet.
With Kabul Goes Pop starting 25 minutes late, it meant many in the audience were already antsy and wishing to stretch their ligaments before a shape had been thrown or a poetic word spoken. The unfortunate delay gave us time to ponder the impressive set, which was a high-tech mock up of a flashy TV studio featuring video screens and more flashing lights than Studio 54.
Kabul Goes Pop is inspired by the true story of Afghanistan’s first youth music TV programme; how it grew, the challenges it faced and the ultimate fate of its optimistic staff and presenters. Farook (Arian Nik) and Samia (Shala Nyx) are big Britney fans, with hearts, minds and hair styles swayed by MTV promos and bootleg cassettes of Westlife.
They aren’t keen on dressing modestly or quoting the Koran, but they dig the Sugababes and DO know the name of the snake that Miss Spears performed with at the VMAs. Like TV presenters the world over, they’re easy on the eye, cocky and perma-cheery. These cheesy qualities turn them into bona fide stars to the kids of Kabul, but the Taliban aren’t keen on their liberated vibes and flashing of the flesh.
As we all know, winding up the Taliban doesn’t end well, and consequently Kabul Goes Pop takes a darker turn towards the end. The show comes with a ‘content warning’ re: sex, war, grief, mental illness and political violence, but for me, the mention of these themes felt too fleeting to warrant a caution. Afghan people are still suffering the fallout of decades of war. The pain is ongoing and incremental. While the play touched on this dynamic, perhaps there was room to go in in harder and sooner.
In 2016, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated explosives near a bus carrying staffers from TOLO (a commercial TV station) in Darulaman Road in Kabul, killing at least 7 staff members – including 3 female employees – and wounding 26 others. That’s one real-life incident in a litany of thousands. While Kabul Goes Pop was hugely entertaining, unique and well performed, there was also sneaking suspicion that as a Western theatre goer, that maybe we’d got off too easy.
Playing until 29th May, https://brixtonhouse.co.uk/
Reviewer: Stewart Who?
Reviewed: 18th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★