Khadija is 18

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© Robert Workman

Shamser Sinha's first play to hit a London stage has the authentic ring of the street. Hackney to be precise. It's about a 17-year-old girl, Khadija, an Afghan asylum seeker set to lose her right to stay in the UK when she turns 18.

Roundly ignored by immigration officials, she is shacked up in a hostel with Liza, an Eastern European, also aged 17, who has to care for her sister's baby. The pair look out for each other, but are divided by boyfriends desperate to impress their crews.

Sinha's world is urban Britain in its rough, rainbow reality. It's a world where the girls have to work for £3 an hour; £4 if they're lucky. Sexist and exploitative role models spit out their hip hop music. And having worked with asylum seekers and vulnerable teenagers for ten years, Sinha knows whereof he speaks. The language of his characters is gorgeously snappy street banter with sardonic 'whatevers' delivered with a sideway shuffle of the head.

His writing kicks nicely off the page, tracing subtle webs of deceit, even if he could explore his characters more. Victor Alli's sharply drawn Nigerian boy struggling to do the right thing is left up in the air and Damson Idris as his teeth-sucking rude boy buddy cries out for a fall that never comes.

Aysha Kala comes off best as a Khadija offering more attitude than a barrel of piranhas. She is a sassy Muslim keen to practise her religion but a long way from taking the veil. Yet behind her gobby front is a trusting, vulnerable child, and she switches seamlessly between modes. Kala is a name to watch, as is Sinha, who only needs to match his tough dialogue with equally probing plots.

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