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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The House of Bilquis Bibi
Hampstead Theatre   Summer 2010 and touring

Tamasha is a theatre company dedicated to producing plays by, for and about the British Asian community. Sudha Bhuchar's new drama is an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca's House Of Bernarda Alba, about a Spanish matron who keeps a very tight rein on her adult daughters to protect their virginities and reputations, only to have the hothouse atmosphere make them even more man-crazy, with tragic results.

Bhuchar has moved the action to modern Pakistan, where (as in Lorca) mother has found a potential husband for her eldest, but he is also carrying on a secret flirtation with the youngest, while the girls in between get their vicarious thrills from the double melodrama. 

To Western eyes the biggest revelation of the play is that the very contemporary young women are all connected to Facebook and Skype and read the latest Western fashion magazines, but still accept the culture of restrictions and arranged marriages, so that the youngest's rebellion is still shocking, even to her sisters.

Whether that's enough to carry even a short (two hours, including long interval) evening is another question, especially since the Westerner is likely to feel left out of some of what's going on.

The characters speak English with frequent extended lapses into Punjabi and Urdu, so some in the audience receive information and get jokes withheld from the rest of us. Adding to that communication gap, a couple of the actresses affect accents so thick that their English is not always appreciably more understandable than their Punjabi, and director Kristine Landon-Smith compounds matters by repeatedly having everybody talk at once.

(Actually, that last problem may be a result of under-rehearsal and jumping cues, since there's a corresponding pattern throughout of missed cues and awkward silences as everyone onstage tries to remember whose turn it is to speak.)

Ila Arun plays the mother with the steel of unhesitating self-righteousness, and Rina Fatania has several strong scenes as an all-seeing servant. Ghizala Avan as the eldest daughter and Youkti Patel as the youngest work hard to stand out from the crowd.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - House of Bilquis Bibi - Hampstead 2010