Reviewed – 30th June 2022
“a sharp and emotionally impactful piece of work”
Favour, a new co-production between The Bush Theatre and Clean Break written by Ambreen Razia, is a tight and heartfelt drama following a working-class Muslim family in East London. It deftly engages with sweeping themes of addiction and its manifestation, mental illness and its effects on parenting, and the connections between social marginalization and the criminal justice system, at the granular and interpersonal level.
The play understands the notion of retributive justice not simply as a harmful status quo that is enforced by the criminal justice system, but as a social norm that bleeds into our familial relationships.
Aleena returns from prison to her mother Noor and daughter Leila. She quarrels with Noor over the way she ought to reintegrate with society, and is more permissive with Leila as she attempts to reclaim her role as primary parent, leading to a conflict of authority. As tensions build, doubt is cast on Aleena’s ability to parent, as well as the circumstances of her incarceration. Though Favour’s plot has its twists and turns, the play is driven chiefly by its layered characters and their complex relationships.
Leila is on the precipice of figuring out what she wants from her life and the people in it. In the hands of Ashna Rabheru, she is equally timid and expressive. Leila is comfortable in the world that her Grandmother, Noor, has built for her—her school, her masjid, the rituals of Islam—even though she bristles with it at times. Simultaneously, she is drawn to the visible affection her mother shows her. Most of all, Leila has not yet discarded the urge to please the people she cares about the most, at the expense of her own wants and needs.
Noor understands and meets Leila’s needs as best as she can, but is followed by a spectre of shame and judgement cast by her surrounding community. Throughout the course of the play, she feels equally motivated by that shame and genuine concern for Leila’s wellbeing. She has a penchant for tradition and order, though she seems to privately understand their pitfalls. Renu Brindle plays Noor with lived-in nuance.
Aleena rages at the same community, their judgement and hypocrisy, at a mother who is unable to show her affection, at the clutches of the carceral state that hold on even after her release from prison. Aleena’s wit is biting and acerbic, though not always well-aimed, and Avita Jay brings her to life with boundless energy and verve. Amid her sharp perception, Aleena often cannot see past her own limitations or her projected desires for Leila.
Fozia, Noor’s sister, serves as comic relief and is played with specificity and perfect timing by Rina Fatania. She also, as a deeply flawed pillar of the community, metaphorically conveys the hollowness of middle class respectability.
The tension that Razia plots between the central characters remains constant throughout Favour, even in its most tender and comedic moments. This tension is aided by the expert co-direction of Róisín McBrinn and Sophie Dillon Moniram. They manage physical space with care, crafting uncomfortable triangular chasms between characters and invasions or personal space when appropriate.
The stagecraft, spearheaded by lighting designer Sally Ferguson and set & costume designer Liz Whitbread, hits its peaks when it dips into the surreal. The scene where Aleena attempts to build a fantasy life for Leila brims with campy pleasure and impossibility—a couch becomes a pink salon chair with glowing trim, a mocktail rotates into view from the back wall of the set.
The ending with respect to Noor and Aleena’s relationship feels a little too neat, and potentially unearned. Favour on the whole however, remains a sharp and emotionally impactful piece of work.
Reviewed by JC Kerr
Photography by Suzi Corker
Previously reviewed at this venue: