THE HOUSE OF BILQUIS BIBI
by Sudha Bhuchar.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue NW3 3EU To 14 August
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm & 4 Aug 2.30pm.
Audio-described 14 Aug 3pm.
BSL Signed 3 Aug.
Captioned/Post-show Discussion with speech-to-text transcription 10 Aug.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
then tour to 2 October 2010.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 July.
Parallel turns out off-kilter.
Surviving as a touring theatre for 21 years might be thought something to shout about, but Tamasha Theatre Company’s anniversary rewrite of Lorca’s House of Bernarda Alba rarely rises beyond the barely audible at Hampstead. It’s to be hoped that’s already cured; certainly it will need to be by the time this co-production with Harrogate Theatre visits the larger spaces of its brief tour.
It’s not only the volume that speaks little. The tight control Bilquis (referred to several times in Sudha Bhuchar’s script by her name’s meaning, ‘Queen of Sheba’) exerts over her five daughters in modern Pakistan hasn’t the resonance it had in 1930s Spain, where the play led to its author’s death: Lorca based Bernarda on a neighbour, who was so offended she took the chance to point-out the Left-wing poet’s hiding-place to a Fascist patrol.
There are references here to terror attacks in modern Pakistan, but no coherent political framework linking to Bilquis’s authority (if there is, it requires more audience pre-knowledge than should be expected by a theatre company that has spent two decades successfully exploring and explaining cultural factors and implications of South East Asian life to varied British audiences).
Bhuchar successfully plays off the captive feeling of Lorca’s young women (assuming knowledge of Bernarda Alba), in an age when technology – cellphones and Skype – has given young people a new sense of independence. But the tussle between that and traditional mores struggles for articulation.
Similarly, the presence of Bilquis’s mother and a family servant don’t add to the claustrophobia as they do in Lorca. Yet this play doesn’t have the strength to stand in its own light. A few incidents – the discovery of one sister’s intended bridegroom in a sister’s room – stand out. But, despite performances that often give the sense they could be heading somewhere, if only they did it with the energy to reach out as far as the audience, Kristine Landon-Smith’s production is all too easily represented by the opening conversation, one of its participants glimpsed only through a window. The wall later moves, but the barriers never seem to come down.
Bilquis: Ila Arun.
Mehroonisa: Indira Joshi.
Zainab/Servant: Balvinder Sopal.
Abida: Ghizala Avan.
Fida: Vineeta Rishi.
Amana/Beggar Woman: Shalini Peiris.
Sumayyah: Mariam Haque.
Aroosa: Youkti Patel.
Bushra: Rina Fatania.
Mourners: Pooja Bhatia, Rakhi Chauhan, Pam Chohan, Brenda Fernandes, Sayera Haque, Hannah Kumari, Sabera Mangera (Hampstead only. Other casts of mourners on tour.).
Director: Kristine Landon-Smith.
Designer: Sue Mayes.
Lighting: Natasha Chivers.
Sound: Mike Furness.
Composer: Felix Cross.
Movement: Lawrence Evans.