Sherine Chalhie: ‘I aim to explore stories about people from all backgrounds and cultures’

My first show Hijabi Matters is a dramatic comedy that explores identity, culture, family pressure, and forced marriage.

Hijabi Matters exposes the fact that forced marriage is happening today in the UK. In 2017 there were over 1000 reported cases of forced marriage in the UK, 25 per cent of which were people under 18.

This play is about highlighting the issue and helping young women become more aware of their choices and the services that are available to them. And it’s a human story that most people can relate to – the pressure to keep your family happy, accept the prevailing culture and do things to keep the peace, even though they may not make you happy.

I was born in London. My father is Syrian and my mother is Irish. It gives me a distinct perspective on different cultures and how they can work together, but also of the clashes in traditions and principles.

Hijabi Matters begins with Isha, a feisty, forthright British Syrian girl sharing a colourful exploration of her extended family in Syria. Once back home in London, she faces an unexpected visitor. The audience becomes her confidante as she talks of first love, the ensuing manipulation, and pressure to get engaged before her 18th birthday.

My writing aims to empower women and explore stories that affect people from all backgrounds and cultures. In Hijabi Matters I’ve tried to fuse comedy and high tension to highlight issues and challenge behaviours.

It is very important for these stories are told and for people in the UK to know that forced marriage is illegal, and that Protection Orders can be made by the courts to prevent it. With this knowledge, people can help to support friends and neighbours and know that services such as the Forced Marriage Unit and Southall Black Sisters exist to protect people from forced marriage and abuse.

Hijabi Matters is being supported by Ovalhouse Theatre as part of their FiRST BiTES programme and has been developed with a grant from Arts Council England. I’m very happy to be bringing my first show to such an amazing theatre, particularly as they have supported many BAME artists on their creative journeys and have been instrumental in giving women’s theatre a platform and the encouragement needed.

Ovalhouse staff have recently trained as part of the J9 domestic violence initiative, which supports the creation of networks of Domestic Violence champions and safe places, so that they can serve the community better by signposting people who are suffering domestic abuse. This is the place that theatre needs to occupy. Not just there for storytelling and entertainment, but to be informative, empowering and supportive.

Hijabi Matters will debut at Ovalhouse on 7th, 8th and 9th March. £5 tickets available here.


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