REPARATIONS at the Soho Theatre
“Garad has created interesting, deeply layered characters in this impressive show”
Maryam Garad presents a compelling debut show as part of the Soho Rising season showcasing new talent. She has a commanding stage presence, navigating the audience deftly through an intricate tale of growth and felony. There were a few issues with pacing and direction, but Garad is clearly a raw talent with huge promise.
Reparations follows the story of Aisha, a 24 year old from the ends who is rebuilding her life after a stint inside. She was convicted after finally getting caught out for her kleptomania, which she has lived with since childhood. On a walk in a park that stretches from Aisha’s estate to a wealthier, whiter, performatively yoga-practising neighbourhood, Aisha and V lock eyes, each intrigued by the other. Another run-in at a club cements a friendship, and then business ventures; Aisha offers V social clout and ‘authenticity’, and V introduces Aisha to her rarefied world of privilege and wellness.
Garad explores a plethora of meaty issues, including class, race, the criminal justice system, and social media through her fascinating anti-hero Aisha (and her wellness guru alter ego Alyssa). She is not afraid to explore the grey areas, and invites the audience into Aisha’s vulnerability as a contrast to her swaggering, and sometimes dangerous adult life. For all this, Reparations is laugh out loud funny, with Garad’s charm landing all the humour.
She embodies all her characters with a natural ease and great physicality, from Aisha’s caring Somali aunt, to V’s plummy Made-in-Chelsea tones, and a hilarious turn as a sham shaman.
For all these efforts to guide the audience through a complex story, there are a few narrative jumps that feel a little challenging. The sudden leap to a wellness camp in Peru felt unsettling, suddenly a world away from the familiarity of a London park. I would have liked to see more how V and Aisha’s relationship developed, and more exploration of how Aisha rebranded herself as Alyssa. A side character is attacked as part of the Amazonian drug-taking ceremony, and then described as ‘lifeless’. Was this actually murder? It’s not dwelled upon again.
The direction could also do with tightening up to show more differentiation between scenes, the transitions of which were inconsistent. Sometimes these were stark and interesting, a change of song or lights snappily moving the narrative along. Other times this was less clear. Lighting is used occasionally to powerful effect, such as when Garad stands to stage left, half lit, reflecting the hidden darkness growing in her as a seven year old. A sterile probation room is harshly lit, but in other scenes the colours were incongruous. There were a couple of issues with props, though one of these was dealt with hilariously, Garad not even flinching as she ad-libbed.
This may be my age showing, but I also am not sure this story needed to have the social media success framing at the top and tail as there’s so much to explore without this. We do not see how Aisha’s following is built up over time, or get to put a microscope on V and Aisha’s codependent relationship. I love a story about infamous scammers (c.f. Anna Delvey or Caroline Carroway) and their rise is part of the legend. I feel like the audience is robbed of some of that here. The importance of a social ‘brand’ is also maybe a bigger deal for younger people, but the prevaricating on this did leave me, a less-online millennial, slightly cold.
None of this takes away from the fact that with another round of editing, Reparations could be a classic. I’m so intrigued to follow this consummate performer as she launches her career. Garad has created interesting, deeply layered characters in this impressive show, and I cannot wait to see more of her.
REPARATIONS at the Soho Theatre
Reviewed on 9th February 2024
by Rosie Thomas
Photography by Clara Lattimer Walter
Previously reviewed at this venue: