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If I Had a Girl...

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

It begins with a celebration, Mariem Omari's verbatim unveiling of honour-based domestic violence among the Muslim community. As Indian snacks are handed out by the cast of Omari's play in the theatre foyer before the show while percussionist Gurjit Sidhu beats out a triumphal rhythm on a dhol, it stresses just how vital to Muslim culture a wedding ceremony is in terms of expressing a sense of unity.

Reality beyond the big day, alas, doesn't always work out as well, as women's real-life litanies of brutality are cut-up between four actresses. Together they tell of arranged marriages and extravagant dowrys being foisted upon them while still children, of beatings, rape and the eternal fear of family shame. Voice is given too to the male perpetrators of violence, who, through actor Manjot Sumal, talk of pressure, stress and other outside forces claimed to justify their actions.

Produced by Amina – Muslim Women's Resource Centre, and drawn from extensive interviews with the women who have suffered first hand from honour-based abuse, Umar Ahmed's production mixes up direct address and a form of orchestrated chorale to tell the women's stories. These are brought vividly to life by Mandy Bhari, Louise Haggerty, Rehanna MacDonald and Storm Skyler McClure, who invest each of their subjects with a dignity and an individual and collective power that may help their peers to break the taboo of speaking out.

Oddly, then, the celebration that introduces the play is the most appropriate of actions. As it purges the women's pasts as much as it reclaims their futures, it becomes a show of dramatic strength that may yet changes lives.

The Herald, March 6th 2017


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