Tag Archives: JC Kerr

Favour

Favour

★★★★

Bush Theatre

Favour

Favour

Bush Theatre

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

 


Favour

Bush Theatre

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Lava | ★★★★ | July 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Lion

The Lion

★★★

Southwark Playhouse

The Lion

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 1st June 2022

★★★

 

“impassioned and emotive vocal performance”

 

“It’s a conversation.” Max Alexander-Taylor chats with audience members pre-show, sitting casually on empty seats, guitar in hand. He speaks, not as Benjamin Scheuer, the autobiographical character he plays, but as himself. These intimate moments prime the audience for a similar intimacy in performance: a three-quarter thrust in Southwark Playhouse’s The Little, the light from elegantly scattered shade-less lamps low and warm, a musical performance that is spoken as much as it is sung. This opening moment, however, also highlights the difficulty of reviving an autobiographical show with a new performer. The tension between actor and character remains nearly constant.

The Lion, a revival of the Drama Desk Award-winning 2014 folk musical, traces the story of Scheuer’s upbringing, his battle with cancer as a young man, and his coming to terms with an imperfect father. The narrative and character relationships are drawn through the constant motif and medium of folk music. The songs are thoughtful and specific—a line about Scheuer’s first girlfriend writing corrections to the White House correspondent at the New York Times remains ringing in my mind. Key moments in the character’s life are marked by the introduction of a new guitar, all of which line the back wall of the stage. These guitar changes serve as an effective storytelling mechanism—the electric guitar marks Benjamin’s burst into early adulthood, his final acoustic guitar is visually and sonically glossy, matching his personal triumph and maturation. The red guitar, however, which is introduced midway through the show, enters unaddressed. This break in convention takes away slightly from what is otherwise a narratively taught piece of theatre.

As the performance unfolds, Alexander-Taylor oscillates between disappearing into the character and narrating from outside of him. Instead of leaning into this tension, aside from the pre-show conversations, the performance attempts to gloss over it, which leads to a general unevenness. Alexander-Taylor’s disappearances, which become more frequent in the final leg of the performance, are quite compelling. The guitar work becomes both looser and more detailed, which is mirrored by his impassioned and emotive vocal performance. The earlier portions of the show would have benefitted from this looseness, though the directorial impulse of Alex Stenhouse and Sean Daniels to reign these moments in is understandable. The trade-off between clarity of langue and clarity of emotion can be difficult to manage, especially with verbose and narratively rich songs.

Emma Chapman’s lighting design is understated yet expressive. The exposed bulbs that litter the stage and audience alike glow and temper along with the emotional waves of the piece. A blue wash creates the impression of the dive bars in which Benjamin plays the angsty grunge and blues rock of his youth. A cool, harsh sidelight transports us to a moonlit cemetery. At the climax, light emanates from beneath the weathered wooden planks (set design Simon Kenny) that form the stage, filling the room.

While the tension between character and performer lends itself to narrative instability, The Lion does not want for technical prowess or pathos.

 

 

Reviewed by JC Kerr

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


The Lion

Southwark Playhouse until 25th June

 

Recently reviewed at this venue:
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | August 2021
Yellowfin | ★★★★ | October 2021
Indecent Proposal | ★★ | November 2021
The Woods | ★★★ | March 2022
Anyone Can Whistle | ★★★★ | April 2022
I Know I Know I Know | ★★★★ | April 2022

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews