We sit and listen to Sarah-Jane Dent, a one-hander about the conflict between faith and desire, written by an anonymous individual who grapples between her devotion to Islam and her sexual appetite. The theological monologues around the Muslim religion are intriguing and informative, if a little prescriptive. The supposedly frank discussion around sex is crass and lacking in subtlety.

Zina is a poorly conceived play with little direction and acting that does nothing to bring out the dichotomy of the character’s personality. Dent walks around with a glint in her eye when she discusses BDSM, spanking, thick cocks and urolagnia. The superficial motive is all too obvious – Zina intends to shock us with sordid details of her sexual proclivity. Except we live in the 21st century; we are well aware of the inherent variety in sexual desire. The thought that a dominatrix smacking a riding crop against her thigh would be enough to offend our twee, traditionalist British sensibilities, is antiquated.

The issue doesn’t lie with one particular aspect of Zina, rather than with its overall construction and concept. Dent is given stunted passages of prose to recite and does her best to add colour into the lines. Despite forgetting her place and failing to interact successfully with the multimedia elements of Jessica Cornfeld’s vision, Dent brings some semblance of conflict into her performance.

It’s the lack of dramaturgical intelligence in Zina that is the main problem. The narrative arc spins itself around on the spot, time and time again, without actually driving anywhere or making any point. This is a production that almost looks to boast about the different encounters that Zina has experienced, without really conveying how they affect or run at odds with her devout faith. The statement seems to be, “I am a Muslim, and I like sex. I’ve made my peace with it.” If that’s the case, where is the tension that Zina seemingly presents?

As we end, even Dent seems to have a sense of relief that the performance is over – things have not gone to plan. But Zina has a deeper issue than the technical faults, rushed dialogue and poorly rehearsed execution present. It simply doesn’t have a point, or if it does, it fails utterly to convey it with any level of depth, honesty or nuance.

 

 

★☆☆☆☆

Zina runs as part of the VAULT Festival until 25 February 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.