Layla’s Room


Made In Plymouth contributor Seren reflects on the emotional rollercoaster created by Layla’s Room, a captivating play written by Sabrina Mahfouz.

Sitting down at the cosy and contemporary Barbican Theatre on a Saturday night, I had no idea that Sabrina Mahfouz’s creation, Layla’s Room, would have such a profound effect on me. From raucous laughter to an unapologetic spilling of tears, Layla’s Room was an emotional journey back to my teenage years. I was reminded of the immense difficulty of growing up, and how this is still a struggle for millions of teenage girls across the country suffering the pressures of our media-crazed age.

Created through a “bespoke national survey” that compiled the voices of 1,000 UK teenagers, Mahzoud’s piece followed a candescent narrative of the difficulties teenage girls face; the battleground of puberty, growing apart from friends, the pressures to be beautiful and a heinously taboo subject which still is still not spoken about enough – sexual assault.

For most teenage girls, growing up is a confusing and difficult time. With celebrities and magazines telling us that we have to look a certain way, tick certain boxes and live up to particular expectations, it’s no wonder that mental health issues are a particular problem for teenagers. I personally found my developing teenage years a more-than-challenging rollercoaster ride of emotion, pressure and expectation – Sabrina Mahfouz’s critical masterpiece Layla’s Room reminded me of just how much I managed to overcome.

The three-person theatre performance was a staple Barbican Theatre piece in nature; stripped back, low key and packed full of emotion. The tale followed the narrative of 15-year-old Layla, growing up in a society where ‘boys will be boys’. Layla’s performance was bursting with energy, captivating the audience and demanding our undivided attention throughout the entire show. An incredibly bright poet and writer, we hear her story of leaving her beloved childhood home and moving because of the horrendous sexual assault she faced at at school – an event that no one wanted to believe had happened. Falling into a deep pit of depression after being accused of lying, Layla fights back at the despicable attitudes towards sexual assault and harassment. Instead of following the ‘everyday’ regiment of life, she establishes her own rule book – a rule book where there are no rules; where girls don’t have to wear makeup to be pretty and boys aren’t allowed to get away with groping and harassing girls; a place where we can fight the gender gap and be ourselves without living up to stereotyped gender roles.

It is devastating to witness the chatty, bright young girl who ‘talks-too-fast-and-has-to-slow-down-so-people-can-keep-track’ worn down to a depressed, suicidal victim of sexual assault and harassment – a crime that’s sadly normalised in our society to the point where it’s accepted that this is okay; ‘it’s just a bit of banter.’ The nature of the performance made it incredibly evocative and hard hitting, leaving me affected for hours afterwards. However, it’s not all doom and gloom – performing a groundbreaking poem defying these standards and fighting for the protection of girls everywhere, the message really hit home to everyone; ‘girls just wanna have fun–damental human rights!’

I would recommend everyone go and see this performance; to inspire young girls, to allow young boys to question their behaviours, and to give raw, honest insight to teachers and parents. This show is incredibly entertaining and will teach any girl that she can conquer the world.

Layla’s Room, written by Sabrina Mahfouz and directed by Natalie Wilson (photo credit: Theatre Centre)