Review: Layla’s Room @ Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

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Layla’s Room | Sherman Theatre, Cardiff | 12th October

Image credit: Sherman Theatre website

Sabrina Mahfouz‘s new play, Layla’s Room is a beautiful homage to growing up and girlhood in the United Kingdom and visited the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff for one night on 12th October.

Sabrina Mahfouz is an Egyptian-British poet and playwright from South-East London, England. In 2010, Mahfouz won the Westminster Prize for Young Playwrights, tipped as a fantastic up-and-coming writer. Six years on, Layla’s Room is a hard-hitting and touching play about girlhood and womanhood around the experience of teenagers everywhere.

Layla’s Play was written and inspired from the findings of a well-known survey on the experiences of young girls in the United Kingdom. From the gender pay gap to an in-depth look at relationships, friendships and gender, Layla’s Room hits on so many relevant subjects relating to young people and young women today in the UK.

Layla’s story initially takes place in her room, before leading the audience to a variety of different settings and different people all played by the same three actors: no easy feat. It was brilliantly executed, the end result under the watchful eye of director Natalie Wilson. What was particularly interesting was the honest and real-life portrayal of school life as teachers and adults know it, and the school life of teenagers when nobody else is around. Too often, plays do not reflect accurately the lives of young people today around areas like sexuality and friendship – this one did the opposite.

“A stunning feat for Mahfouz”

Mahfouz’s play buzzes with beautiful language and slang that is illuminated by the performance of lead, Shanice Shawell and is complimented well by fellow actors, Alex Steadman and Emma White. Particular attention and focus was paid to language, to very realistic ends: the slang of teenagers, the accent of the teachers and the language used by her friends. By the end of the piece, it was clear that the audience in Cardiff were very moved by the play.

Layla’s Room is a stunning feat for Mahfouz. It seemed fitting that we saw this play on the International Day of the Girl Child, as after the play, there was a Q+A with the actors and directors on what constitutes sexism – and what we can do to stop it. It involved active audience participation from young and older attendees alike. This play is well-suited to be taught in schools – and is probably the play that immortalises Sabrina Mahfouz’s work in the United Kingdom for a mass-audience.

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