Isma Almas

Isma Almas

Finalist in Funny Women, 2007
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Isma Almas Bombs – Fringe 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Nione Meakin

One of the most frustrating things about Shazia Mirza is the sense that she isn't living up to her potential. As a female, Muslim stand-up, she should have a unique and important perspective to share, yet instead she fills her sets with pedestrian material about the horrors of EasyJet and hair removal.

Thankfully, newcomer Isma Almas attempts to fill in the gaps.

Almas is a British Pakistani Muslim who grew up on an all-white estate in Bradford with a fiercely religious father and predictably unwelcoming neighbours.

In a promising Fringe debut, she uses her background as basis for an autobiographical show reminiscent in parts of a post-watershed version of Meera Syal's novel Anita And Me.

With an admirable lightness of touch and air of mischief, Almas is able to touch on some fairly unsavoury topics; the anti-Pakistani signs that greeted her family on arrival in Bradford, their difficulties in trying to blend in, her father's treatment of her mother, who he kept in strict purdah for several years – ‘a bit like that man in Austria, only culturally acceptable’.

She has the rather gentle, encouraging air of a primary school teacher, which can seem at odds with her quietly provocative material. When you're a Muslim woman talking about sexuality, a ready smile and a cute wrinkling of the nose is unlikely to defuse the controversy, so why not just say it without the sweetener?

Almas is a proficient writer but a weaker performer - leaving aside a few really duff gags clearly (a reminder not to confuse purdah with Prada springs to mind), the show has a high proportion of playful, subversive and intelligent material, but you can hear the writing and she lacks conviction in her on-stage persona.

The show could also do with a little editing to weed out the not-quite jokes and give its real gems space to sparkle. But these are all things that can be refined given time. For now, Alma’s charm and freshness mark her out as a tantalising prospect.

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Published: 16 Aug 2009

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