If I had a Girl…, Citizens Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Amina – Muslim Women’s Resource Centre
Mariem Omari(writer), Umar Ahmed (director), Dilraj Kaur (costume/set design), Stephen Barnes (dramaturg), Nathan Vedder (lighting design)
Shabana Bakhsh, Louise Haggerty, Storm Skyler McClure, Rehanna MacDonald and Manjot Sumal
Running time

What goes on behind closed doors in any community or culture can be shocking when the doors are opened and the truth is revealed. This brave piece of physical theatre and storytelling gives voice to some of those who’ve lived behind such doors.

If I had a Girl…, is the result of a workshop involving survivors of honour based violence and domestic abuse that was part of a Violence Against Women Programme of Amina, (Muslim Women’s Resource Centre), run by writer Mariem Omari and of interviews with men who were former perpetrators and now on a reform programme. Taking the stories of the otherwise silent, Omari has created a piece of narrated physical theatre that has at its root the concepts of control and misogyny. While the focus of the play is on honour-based violence in the Asian community in Scotland, such ugly behaviour in any culture and by any perpetrator is universally recognizable. Scots Pakistani director Umar Ahmed brings his experience of having a dual culture and identity with a personal understanding of the issues raised in the play.

The gender ratio of the cast reflects the fact that women are the prime victims of marital and domestic violence. From the opening colourful party atmosphere of an Asian wedding to the sharp shock of post honeymoon cruel tongued control and violence, the four women actors, Shabana Bakhsh, Louise Haggerty, Storm Skyler McClure and Rehanna MacDonald, give strong, impressive performances, showing the shattering of some Bollywood dreams.

Dressed in beautifully designed semi saris by Dilraj Kaur that capture the duality of their lives, they kaleidoscope through their role changes becoming the reluctant bride; the critical mother-in-law; the cowed and battered wife; the loving mother and, as demanded, football fans and even Glesga Polis. The one male on stage, Manjot Sumal, is a powerful presence as he morphs from a welcoming bridegroom to wife beater to Jack the Lad with conviction. Some disappointing laughter at his caricature Pakistani accent was reminiscent of the way a Scots character can get laughter on stage just for sounding, well, so damned Scottish but was a only brief distraction from the compelling storytelling in this both skillfully directed and choreographed performance.

If a burden shared is a burden halved, then Amina’s theatrical method of shedding light on the highly sensitive issues such as the hypocrisy and collusion of previous generations in reinforcing the concept of family shame should be at least a small step to sharing this particular issue in our society. The Southside of Glasgow has been home to different immigrant populations for decades so it is fitting that it is the Southside’s theatre, the Citizen’s, that plays host to this important show’s première.

The welcome of some slick Sikh drumming accompanied by dancing in the foyer and some Scots Asian hospitality may not follow this show around but it kicked off its première with great hand clapping gusto. Amina has lifted the veil in this brave and challenging piece of theatre.

14th -16th April 2016 and touring Scotland later in the year