|House Of Bilquis|
Cast: House Of Bilquis Bibi at Oldham
Date: 9 July 2010
Theatre company Tamasha have announced the cast for their production of The House of Bilquis Bibi, which comes to Oldham Coliseum Theatre in September.
Directed by Kristine Landon-Smith, it tells the story of a widow obsessed with upholding her family’s reputation while her five daughters dream only of finding love.Writer Sudha Bhuchar has relocated [Federico García Lorca]’s 1939 drama The House of Bernarda Alba from rural Spain to present-day Pakistan – specifically the Punjabi town of Jhang, a town steeped in the romance and tragedy of the Heer Ranjha legend.
Ila Arun will play the domineering matriarch Bilquis, leading an all-female cast of nine. A popular singer and actress in India, Ila recently starred alongside Aishwarya Rai in Bollywood epic Jodhaa Akbar and will soon appear in West is West, BBC Films’ sequel to East is East.
Indira Joshi (The Kumars at No. 42, Grumpy Old Women) will play Bilquis’ senile mother Mehroonisa, Rina Fatania returns as servant Bushra, and youngest daughter Aroosa will be played by Youkti Patel, seen last year in the lead role of Shakuntala in Tamasha’s musical Wuthering Heights which was at the Coliseum in March 2009. Ghizala Avan, Mariam Haque, Shalini Peiris, Vineeta Rishi and Balvinder Sopal complete the cast.
The House of Bilquis Bibi runs at the Oldham Coliseum from 28 September - 2 October.
- by Glenn Meads
|Whilst watching this interesting and highly entertaining adaptation of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, I began to wonder what had led Sudha Buchar to choose this already extensively adapted piece as the play that coincides with Tamasha’s 21st birthday? It would have been easy to choose something far more commercial and lucrative – but wouldn’t that stray from everything Tamasha has stood for?
Lorca attempted to describe all the tension that existed in a bereaved, all female, Spanish family. His plot, together with his cast of characters, was an intricate web of hierarchy, control, corruption, double-dealing and sadness all testing their resilience against a backdrop of hope. In Lorca’s play, the cast of characters all had their specific role and were indeed necessary to the plot. The matriarch figure of Bernarda Alba was herself a woman who’s feeling of bitterness of life’s betrayal were hidden by her stifling control over her 5 daughters. Whilst "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." (The Mourning Bride by William Congreve, 1697), actually, hell hath no fury like a twice married, bitter, widowed mother with 5 unmarried daughters, all of whom have the potential to marry and leave, but have been to date prevented to do so by their own mother!
Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith have managed to convey exactly this in their own interpretation of the character of Bernarda Alba – Bilquis Bibi. To anyone with a few moments spare to research, it will not go unnoticed that the name of the main character, Bilquis Bibi, is not ‘roughly translated’, but is actually the Islamic name for the Queen of Sheba herself. Ila Arun, who plays Bilquis, carries off her character with total control. Her portrayal of Bilquis is fantastic and resonates with power and manipulation. She manages to brand her role of megalomaniac tormentor into the fabric of the play. But Sudha Bhuchar still leaves it to the audience to decide if this is just a woman wielding power or a woman bereft of happiness trying to protect her daughters from the experiences she may have been through. The actresses that play the five daughters do well to reflect their tormentor’s angst in their own characters. Rina Fatania as the servant Bushra does a superbly portrayed a long-suffering but loyal servant in a house full of secrets. The fact that all the other characters owe much to her tact and inside knowledge of the family is obvious as the play unfolds.
The set evoked more than enough of a feeling of modern, but traditional Pakistan. The country is one of extreme contrasts, co-existing side by side in the cities as well as towns and villages of a volatile country. Despite the infiltration of mobile phones, satellite television, and all manner of devices which have permeated into the every day lives of most households within Pakistan, there also exist century old customs that have changed little over time. The feudal land owning classes still have a stranglehold over entire stretches of the population – this was entirely fitting to the play and allowed the characters to push against the boundaries in a way that is completely believable.
Some may not appreciated the dialogue behind the window screens, but personally I loved the concept. It really gave one a feeling of listening and watching a family that had a very real and private issue going on. We all have a hunger for other people’s ‘goings on’ – watching and listening through the windows of the walled set gave us that feeling of being allowed in. Subtle and very clever.
The script does a great job of conveying the issues faced by a traditional, all female family in Pakistan. There is cultural prejudice against ‘women’ only families – whether the interpretation is from inside the family or from society looking on, The House of Bilquis Bibi does well to reflect both views.
For me the acid test is always, ‘Would I watch the production again’ – Yes, most definitly!
It’s a great play, well written, well cast and creatively directed.
- Wasim||07 Aug 10|
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