Originally published to broadwaybaby.com
Journalist Lauren Booth’s first solo show, Accidentally Muslim, promises a journey from ‘Soho hedonism’ to a shocking revelation in a mosque. The journey she actually goes on – through life and through this performance – is fascinating in its own right but doesn’t match the one promised.
Accidentally Muslim outlines Booth’s undeniably interesting life from childhood to her 2010 conversion to Islam through engaging storytelling and fun, if occasionally laboured character work. Beginning with her poor North London childhood, Booth continues through the unsuccessful acting career of her 20s, her transition to journalism in her 30s as her brother-in-law Tony Blair ascended to power and subsequently lost her support with the advent of the Iraq War, and then – finally getting to the matter of the title – her trips to the middle east where she first encounters the generosity and resilience of Palestinian Muslims.
Booth expertly steps into the shoes of those around her, portraying her parents, those she meets on her travels, and her own children among many others. The character work is great, though sometimes undermined by unconvincing miming. For a majority of the show, however, Booth portrays herself. Unfortunately, the retrospective tone feels one-note after a while and doesn’t evolve over the different stages of her life – a missed opportunity to add interest. Her journey through faith, from an atheistic upbringing to a hesitant adult Christianity and eventually to a pious Muslim life, is fascinating but not explored in as much depth as the title would suggest. Most of the religious focus, which only really emerges in the second half, is focused on her pre-conversion encounters with ordinary Muslims, and comprised a definite highlight.
Overall, the parts of the show actually relevant to the promised story of Booth’s conversion landed much more strongly than the meandering life story that preceded them. Her examination of her own prejudice against Arabs, her deep connection with the people she met in Palestine, her attempts to reconcile her growing spirituality with institutional Christianity, and her eventual acceptance of Islam was a beautiful and resonant story. If the rest of the show had maintained that focus, and perhaps gone deeper into her experience of Islam after her initial conversion, it could have reached much greater heights. As it is, it remains an enjoyable hour of stories from a brave and varied life.