Impeccable play about human connections!

Billy: “You’re in Britain now.  They wouldn’t send a gay person back, to be harmed.” 

Zofar: “I’m not in your Britain.  I’m in another Britain. I spend every hour worrying if I’ll be allowed to stay.”

Waleed Akhtar as Bilal and Esh Alladi as Zafar (Photo: Craig Fuller)

It starts fairly slowly as we meet both the characters, Bilal (actor and playwright Waleed Akhtar), a British man of Pakistani heritage and Zofar (Esh Alladi) a Pakistani man seeking asylum in the UK.  Both are gay men but their life styles are very different.  Their story is told in parallel but separate monologues.

Bilal, a Londoner, calling himself Billy is trawling through Grindr on-line hook ups but not finding anyone more permanent.  Zofar has been traumatised in Pakistan with his lover killed by his factory owning father after discovering his son Zofar and Haroon in flagrante delicto.

While Billy talks with street cred, Zofar is much more serious, with due cause as his life is threatened in Pakistan, with imprisonment for homosexuality and his application for asylum rejected.  Zofar talks to an Islamic GP and she makes space for him and his suicidal feelings. He goes to a LGBT+ group for those seeking asylum, along with people from Iran, Northern Nigeria, Uganda and Singapore.   

Waleed Akhtar as Bilal (Photo: Craig Fuller)

The play takes place on a circle made up of two halves, asymmetrically tilted and lit on the edges.  Directed well by Anthony Simpson-Pike, the cast are playing in the round and lighting and music enhance atmosphere.

Waleed Akhtar has great writing skill and we feel immediately for Zofar’s predicament.  Bilal is harder to warm to as he shows his toughened street side but when the men meet on a chance evening encounter during Pride, Zafar helps Bilal get home after Bilal has had too much to drink.  The men warm to each other through friendship with Zofar initially making Bilal pakoras for breakfast like Bilal’s mother used to. 

Esh Alladi as Zafar and Waleed Akhtar as Bilal (Photo: Craig Fuller)

There is a growing rapport but not a romantic one.  The men meet up and Zofar teaches Bilal about Pakistan. He explains that Billi means cat in Urdu and calls him Bilal pronouncing it like Bilal’s mother does “Buh-laal”.  Bilal works in fashion and Zofar’s father has a textile factory and they both say how much they admire Alexander McQueen.  Zofar talks about Bollywood films and Bilal shows Zofar London.  Waleed Akhtar has found much comedy in this affecting play and the performances of both men are perfectly convincing.

Zofar explains to Bilal why he should not use “Paki” as it has become a term of abuse, an illustration of how far Bilal heretofore has accepted Londoners’ pejorative slang. 

Esh Alladi as Zafar and Waleed Akhtar as Bilal (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Suddenly there is a disaster which I will not disclose but the younger man steps up and in an exciting, tense and heart-warming scene, I could feel tears at the emotion this play engenders.  So here is a romcom about two gay men of Pakistani origin which touched me deeply.  A final note of realism explains the predicament of gay asylum seekers and the issue for those newly single like Zofar to convince the authorities of their predicament. 

I liked this play so much that I am awarding it five stars from Theatrevibe, the site that doesn’t do stars!  Don’t miss it! 

Waleed Akhtar as Bilal and Esh Alladi as Zafar (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Production Notes

The P Word

Written by Waleed Akhtar

Directed by Anthony Simpson-Pike



Waleed Akhtar

Esh Alladi


DirectorAnthony Simpson-Pike

Designer: Max Johns

Composer: Niraj Chag

Lighting Designer:  Elliot Griggs

Sound Designer: Xana

Movement: Rachel Nanyonjo


Running Time: One hour 15 minutes without an interval

Booking to 22nd October 2022 



The Bush Theatre

7 Uxbridge Rd
Shepherd’s Bush
London  W12 8LJ
Phone: 020 8743 5050




Tube Shepherd’s Bush Market


Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the 

at the Bush Theatre

on 15th September  2022