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A Review of ‘We Wait In Joyful Hope’ by Brian Mullin

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This is a review of ‘We Wait In Joyful Hope’ by Brian Mullin, shown at Theatre 503 on the 5th of June.

Joanne: The sacraments are a great source of strength. I know you believe that.

Bernie: I don’t believe I need a man to access them.

Women of faith are not immune to the desire of men to take control whether in a Church or a Mosque. Brian Mullin’s play takes us into the life of Sister Bernie who instinctively, ferociously battles male encroachment of her spiritual and work space. Sister Bernie is a streetwise radical nun who displays her rebellious attitude with cheeky slogan t-shirts, sugary soda and sweets topped off with a thunderous voice. Her words are a lifelong rallying cry for the troubled women of her community. Sister Bernie represents the thinking woman of faith who seeks to follow the ideals of her religion. In the sixties, Bernie like many nuns in the Catholic Church chose to re-evaluate the merits of cloistered existence away from people on the streets. To act on her impulse, to make radical change in age old traditions, to interact with society is significant for religious women’s empowerment.

Joanne, a relapsed nun and estranged friend of Bernie, is in contrast straight backed, wearing calm, neutral colours, visibly nervous and softly spoken – we imagine a woman who will always conform. She says she is there to help Bernie with her charitable work but we sense Bernie’s suspicion of Joanne’s intentions from the start. During the course of the play we learn of Joanne’s involvement with Bernie in setting up the alternative mission as young nuns. Joanne reveals Bernie’s early questioning and exploration of the purpose of religious devotion. Were they serving God and his creation effectively by living away from the world’s problems? We see that even the sweet timid Joanne has desire to break with order, discipline and seek answers in the wild streets of life lived. Felicia is the teenager who seeks shelter with Bernie who is wise enough to give space to the distressed girl but also some firm advice and security. The mission is a place where men are barred, to the annoyance of Father Grady, where women know best how to care for one another. The play centres on their friendships and lovingly displays the tender, sensitive nature of their feelings. Bernie and Joanne reminisce and smoke a joint like pros whilst we hear the thundering rain and sit back taking in the evocative, warm radical poster clad set.

There are moments spread throughout the play where Bernie seems a very lonely bitter figure. She is a woman who has given her life to serving God and her community but who chooses to ache alone. She has learnt to believe in God on her own terms and stands against the approaches of help from the Church and Joanne. Bernie is savvy enough to suspect Church hierarchy may rein her in and even collude with moneyed interests. She speaks like a woman who passionately wants to always stand against male domination and corrupt capitalism. Father Grady challenges her opposition to his regeneration model. Bernie recognises the tide against her mission, her community and work is too strong. and change will happen despite her protests. The play highlights the difficult realities faced by communities in the face of sweeping social structural reorganisation.

The beauty of the play lies in the strength of the two elder women who have both lived through tremendous reflection and personal choices. It was refreshing, joyful and empowering to watch them battle each other over their past friendship but also their continued affection for each other. The sense of sisterhood and solidarity between women is most convincingly portrayed throughout and perhaps Sister Bernie’ s best triumph is in directing her protégée Felicia away from misogynistic violence and poverty. Bernie is strong but increasingly fragile and it is at the hands of Felicia the hot-headed feisty dreamer that Bernie finds love and a future.

Rebiew by Nazia Shahid
@25nazia

‘We Wait in Joyful Hope’ will be shown at Threatre 503 until the 11th of June, see website for further details and how to book.

 

Image Credit: Theatre 503


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A Review of ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ by Ambreen Razia

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Image credit: Ovalhouse Theatre

This is a review of the ‘The Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ a play by Ambreen Razia, shown at the Ovalhouse on the 6th of May.

Ambreen Razia had the audience spellbound by her electric performance. From start to finish I could not avert my eyes or raise my glass to take a sip of my drink for such was her charismatic presence. She portrays a teen Hounslow girl who is refreshingly not meek. In contrast to traditional perceptions of Pakistani girls she is a tigress roaring with passionate cries for freedom. Ambreen’s character is sensitive, inquisitive and a spark once lit transformed into a fire. She stormed onto the set unfurling a myriad of difficult painful recollections, punctuated with kind relief from the tempo with humour that had the room laugh out loud.

The diary of a Hounslow girl is a play much needed for all who care about women and girls across our diverse communities. The more I listened the more I wanted to shout out in delight at the message expressed by a lone character narrating her troubled British teen Muslim existence from her bedroom. Ambreen focuses on her Muslim Pakistani identity but understands and relates the shared trials of London girls in general. London girls are diverse, unique individuals, each adding a different flavour to the culture and voice of this city. The play asserts the complexity of individual identity bound up with multiple mini communities all co-existing as one. Ambreen’s Hounslow Muslim Pakistani girl is significantly different to her peers but also very much just another Londoner.  Hounslow girl wants to speak, she wants her words heard – she wants to exist. She questions being singled out as a girl within her ethnic culture and Islamic community. She wonders why she must be held to account by her mother, sister, mosque uncle, Aunty Nusrat and God but denied the right to ask questions and search for answers on her own terms. We follow her tempestuous journey trying to be the perfect Pakistani girl for her mother while also trying to enjoy her friendships with girls her mother would rather dig a whole and hide away from. What is the place of a daughter born of an immigrant parent? This is the point addressed so clearly and passionately by Ambreen Razia throughout the play. Who gets to decide who Hounslow girl is and will be – her mother, her friends, her mosque uncle or her thoughts, actions, mistakes and solutions?

“It is revolutionary in its message and it must be watched by mothers and daughters alike”

Take away the hijab, take away the clothes, lingo and ethnic markers and the audience can see this is a diary about a girl who is looking to live her life with free will as so many teenagers yearn to do. Ambreen Razia bravely channels the ferocity of the teenage ride with searing heart breaking truths but brings us safely to a comforting final reflection. Hounslow girl is defiant, rebellious and angry but she is able to feel compassion and empathy for her mother. Ambreen Razia has said she wrote this play for girls coming of age – I think it is more than that – it is revolutionary in its message and it must be watched by mothers and daughters alike. In the last tender moments of the play the stormy whirlwind unleashed by Hounslow girl in my mind slowed to a gentle meditative state. I drank my drink and reflected on the special moment I had witnessed – the coming of age of women much marginalised, misunderstood but more and more a liberated dynamic force.

by Nazia

@25nazia

Diary of a Hounslow girl is on national tour details blacktheatrelive.co.uk and will be showing at the Ovalhouse between Wednesday 3rd of  June to  Saturday  6th of  June, at 7:00pm.

Image credit: Ovalhouse Theatre

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.