During the month of November every year, I attend out of love and duty, what I feel is one of the finest fringe theatre festivals in the UK. As a staunch supporter of local arts, I have always tried to contribute however I can in ensuring these traditions continue in our urban spaces. This festival is called The Season of Bangla Drama, spearheaded by a good friend of mine and also a fellow theatre lover Kazi Ruksana, whom without, this festival would collapse. She, with the help of the Tower Hamlets Council and all the wonderful festival volunteers and venues, leads this annual celebration from inception to delivery – and it has gone from strength to strength every year.
The festival offers a diverse range of plays with Bengali sensibilities from the UK, Bangladesh and West Bengal. It aims to explore how Bengali culture and heritage can be exported across continents and reinterpreted using a mixture of innovation and tradition to inspire a new generation and develop new audiences. The festival is also a great platform for emerging writers, directors and performers to showcase their talents. . I am asked every year to review the plays, which is both a pleasure and challenge, especially for the really good ones where I’m often lost for word and just want to say ‘incredible’!
THE CRUEL TRUTH
On Friday 14th of November 2014, I had the pleasure of watching ‘The Cruel Truth’, a piece of verbatim theatre produced by The Rokeya Project.
Based on a true story The Cruel Truth explores the lives of two women, Shaista and Rani, and their life during and after their arranged marriages and immigration to the UK. Through the medium of dance and drama the concept of an arranged marriage is held under a microscope showing its role in todays multi-cultural society.
They are confronted with unexpected blessings, hardships and dangers as they strive build their new homes. As the women battle through, they find there is no going back to the life they have come from. Leaving their friends and family behind, the women face a number of issues many women across the world continue to face under these circumstances. Some arranged marriages do work, but if they go wrong, the consequences can be disastrous. Both stories are explored from a positive and negative perspective. Issues faced along the way include rape, domestic violence, maltreatment and more, all of which will affect their destinies.
The theatre was full, a refuge from the cold weather outside. The play began with an introduction from one of the dancers, who also played Rani. The marriage between the dance and narrative scenes where seamless. I loved the simplicity of the set and the minimal props. With such strong roles delivered, there really was no need for additional details. Costumes were realistic, and the monochrome dressed dancers were a visual delight. Defiant and bold in their moves. Each character was delivered in a powerfully heartfelt way. I laughed, I cried and I felt. When Shaista was getting dressed for her big day, I felt I was going through the motions with her… the delicate use of stage space by the dancers and the characters as she dressed, read, spoke to her husband on skype was wonderful to watch. I laughed as her husband from England, a young energetic funny young man, with a boyish charm, slowly fell in love and grew to dote her as she went from strength to strength during her adjustment in the UK.
Rani on the other hand had a different fate. Her move to the UK was a slow death. I broke inside as she lay helpless on the floor being raped by her father in law, as her schizophrenic husband was refused to spend time with her, as her mother in law broke her emotionally and physically day in day out. Rani’s courageous change and self belief almost took us all as an audience on a journey of change with her.
What i loved most about this piece, more than the union of two icons Rokeya Hossain and Maya Angelou; was its focus on the realities faced by women up and down the country all the time. Realities which are far too often not discussed brushed under the carpet or forced to be seen as a ‘part of the adjustment after marriage and migration’. These realities affect us all on some level, and as a member of the audience, I could hear a few sniffles and see a few wipe tears.. I too became part of this narrative in ways I did not expect.
This play was a moving piece and my only suggestion is that it is a little longer and for there to be an additional scene or two about the expectations and dreams and ambitions of both women, so we have a more detailed context and history of their past. Aside this, a huge congratulations to Showmi Das and the entire cast and crew, assister writers and producers, for giving us a story that will forever remind us of how precious our lives are and how blessed the simple bounties of a good relationship, happy healthy home and love can be when so many await for their basic rights in these areas of their lives.
I end in the words of Maya Angelou which I feel best fit this piece – ‘We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated’.
© 2014 Shroomantics ~ Rahima Begum
CAST AND PRODUCTION
Written by Showmi Das and Junior Mumun
Director and Choreographer : Showmi Das
Assistant Director : Maria Pullicino
Lighting Design and Direction: Salvatore Scollo
Sound Design and Direction: Kadir Hussain
Rose Fuller Jacobs