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Vault Festival Review: Pole Factor

5th February 2014

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In a world that is obsessed by celebrity and polarised by extreme religious/anti-religious views, Sameera Mohammed (aka Coco), the favourite to win a televised pole dancing competition, is courting controversy by publically rejecting her Muslim roots.

Pole Factor, Nazish Khan’s satire on contemporary society, offers a disturbing look at multilayered issues including the media, racial tension, sexualisation and personal loss.

With so many intertwined and complicated themes, it would’ve been easy to make the characters (Coco, her boyfriend Max, his friend Hanif and fellow Pole Factor contestant Gina) less complex than they are – but this might have provided easier answers that are required, and is exactly what writer Naz was steering clear of.

In terms of characterisation Coco might seem infuriating, and there is no doubt that she is irresponsible, vain, and has had her head turned by her sudden fame - but as her character develops it becomes clear that her naive actions come from a place of hurt. It would be a hard audience that didn’t find her even a little bit sympathetic, and it is these grey areas that make Pole Factor so thought-provoking.  

Of course the complexity of the characters is down to the strong writing, but is bolstered by moving performances from the small cast – especially Reena Lalbihari as Coco and Farhan Khan as Hanif, two characters who are struggling to deal responsibly with the conflicting issues in their lives.   

The beauty of Pole Factor lays in the fact that, like the characters themselves, we aren’t sure what is real and what isn’t – from Coco and Gina’s friendship (an illusion for the cameras?) to Coco’s feelings for Max to her motivations for rejecting her Muslim heritage.  It is this context in which Hanif’s attempts to put together something as innocent as a football team can be so easily thwarted by prejudice and suspicion. This lack of clarity between the characters is depicted best when Hanif asks Max, his old friend, whether he believes in his full innocence, following Coco’s thoughtless assertions on plans for a new mosque. We might think we know those closest to us, but do we really?

Refreshingly, Pole Factor is a visually simple production – nothing is superfluous in the set or the script; everything said or seen is essential to the moving forward of events, and this allows the difficult themes to speak for themselves and relay their message with maximum impact.  

Pole Factor deliberately avoids offering any answers whatsoever to its audience, and with its far from stereotypical characters (aside from possibly Gina), we are presented with a production that pushes the boundaries and leaves us with many questions to ask of the society that we live in.  

Pole Factor, written by Nazish Khan and directed by Bernie C. Byrnes, is being performed by the Angry Bairds theatre company as part of Vault Festival, Waterloo, from 4th – 8th February. Find out more about the Angry Bairds on their website, or buy tickets here.

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