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The House of Bilquis Bibi

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Tamasha, the company that last year transplanted 'Brontë to Bollywood' with Wuthering Heights, is now celebrating its 21st anniversary by taking Lorca to Pakistan.

On paper it seems a good fit, and writer Sudha Bhuchar (who adapted A Fine Balance at Hampstead four years ago) is at pains to point out the parallels between 1930s Andalusia and contemporary Punjab, particularly in terms of religious suppression.

However, in action the transposition is untidy, and Bhuchar's text lacks the nuance and depth of Lorca's original, even if it remains narratively faithful with the matriarch Bilquis imposing a strict period of mourning on her five desperate daughters.

The unseen cousin Pappo, who proposes to the eldest (Abida) but cavorts with the youngest (Aroosa), becomes the focus of the girls' repressed longing as he creeps around the bedrooms and balconies by night, creating consternation for the dictatorial Bilquis and her loyal servants.

It takes time to attune to the dialogue, partly due to heavy accenting and partly due to some poor delivery. But when it does get going the text is peppered with sharp observations (“old women can see through walls” warns acerbic housemaid Bushra) as well as a striking number of contemporary references, from Skype to Imran Khan.

The performances are patchy, and at times Ila Arun seemed to struggle in the central role. But Rina Fatania has great fun with Bushra, while of the daughters, Mariam Haque (Sumayyah) and Youkti Patel (Aroosa) pack the greatest emotional punch in a production sadly lacking a knockout blow.


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