The Big Lie

If the thought of watching a one woman play about a Kurdish refugee turned lawyer helping to broker a major arms deal for a Swedish law firm doesn’t thrill you then think again, as The Big Lie is a little gem. Shaniaz Hama Ali’s semi-autobiographical play contains all the elements needed for a great story, albeit haltingly told and occasionally reminiscent of a corporate presentation or job interview, it is nonetheless a story worth listening to.

The Big Lie is a little gem.

Shaniaz begins by telling us of her experiences of growing up in small rural Swedish town, having fled from their home in Iraq when Saddam Hussein declared war on the Kurdish people. Her mother, father and brothers are the only ‘brown’ family in the neighbourhood and five year old Shaniaz berates her mum for not washing her properly so she can fit in with the other children. This village also harbours an abundance of right wing sympathisers and the children absorb their negative attitude to the refugees from their parents.

Shaniaz manages to convey her experiences of bullying and racism with self-deprecating humour, humility and charm and despite the horrors of all she has endured she portrays the bitterness with a sweet pill that is easy for the audience to swallow. You get the sense that everyone is rooting for her and the characters she introduces. Her mother is unable to help Shaniaz improve her reading skills as she can’t speak Swedish and her father, like the parents of many immigrants forced to survive in an alien land, pushes her to achieve better grades than her classmates, which she does.

She becomes a lawyer in a highly successful firm, but the racism she suffered in the playground continues in the work place. Again this is told with humour and the over exaggerated Swedish accents and ridiculous statements help highlight the absurdity of the bigotry she faces. Occasionally she lets us see how it affects her and it is in these quiet moments of reflection where she really draws us in.

Not every exchange her family encounters is a negative one and there are some moments where your faith in humanity is restored. Describing how her mother manages to get them out of Iraq and illegally into Sweden with a compassionate border security guard provides one of the tensest, most emotionally charged moments of the piece.

The firm is embroiled in shady deals and dirty cover-ups and Shaniaz takes all these in her professional stride but along comes a deal which forces her to question everything she has now become. She knows she has to fit in to get ahead in the firm but she is a product of all of her past experiences, of who she was, of where she came from and of what she has now become. This helps her to reach the decision that proves to be the final conclusion of her career but, like the rest of the fascinating hour that we spend in her company, we applaud her for it. 

Reviews by Christine Kempell

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The Blurb

How far would you go to make it? A former child refugee, an Iraqi Kurd, Shaniaz grafted her way through law school to work as an intern and her big break is to support an arms deal for a major client. Enter the world of toxic deals, military massacres and selling cigarettes to children in this brutally honest, darkly humorous look at the dirty business of one of the world’s top law firms. Shaniaz Hama Ali's semi-autobiographical play, The Big Lie mixes the personal with the political, forcing us to ask questions about class, race and war.

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