Friday, 11 March 2011

Woman Bomb - Tristan Bates Theatre, London

Writer: Ivana Sajko
Translator: Vana Butkovic
Director: Maja Milatovic-Ovadia & Vanda Butkovic
Reviewer: Toni Stott-Rates
[Rating: 3.5] 

“Is this an act of heroism ending in my suicide, or is this a suicide hidden behind an act of heroism”?

Ivana Sajko’s play is an interesting and fun concept; two actors play different parts of a playwright’s consciousness that is trying to work through her creative process and find the character of a female suicide bomber. It is an interesting look at the thoughts and frustrations of the writer as she works through the information she gathers, the opinions of others and her own understandings; her love, like disgust, hatred, sympathy, pity, disdain for this character. It is a wonderful subject to look into as the reasons for becoming a suicide bomber are so intrinsically personal that in a way its completely up to the writer to decide how and why for her character because who knows why this or that woman went through with it.

The play recites many statistics to and for us, many facts and stories, examples and realities for who suicide bombers can be and why they might do this. Its an eye opener, the character of the bomber herself, because of the changing ideas of the writer, goes through many transitions doing it at first for hatred and disgust, for fear, for fanaticism, for any of the numerous ways women may be willing and then forced into doing it, atoning for their sins real or perceived, for money, for social acceptance, and finally and ultimately for suicide.

The directors’ choice to cast a young pretty blonde girl who is well groomed and healthy as the bomber really grated me, I thought ‘good grief why on earth someone like this’ surely its not that hard to get someone who looks closer to the part, but its humbling to realise that this was precisely the reason she was cast because as a westerner is so easy to think about suicide bombers as ethnically, racially, religiously different from us. It’s comforting that down deep without ever consciously acknowledging it we assume none of them look like us, that we are different, it’s not OUR problem. Being made to look at that is a bit shaming and wonderful for the show if they are able to get that reaction from their audience.

This is just one part of how this play challenges you to think about how you think, to examine your preconceived ideas about suicide bombers, and in this way the show is a success and well done. In other ways there were some issues, for example it often veered into melodrama, sometimes it quickly reversed that and even questioned the melodrama, but at times it was just too irking to watch and therefore pulls you out of the voyeurs dream and into a state where you are actively criticizing the play and not watching it.

The acting choices that both the actors and the directors kept did at times rankle me, Laura Harling’s portrayal of the bomber, for example, keeps going back to a kind of femme fatale noir’ish character or at other times someone unhinged and still at other times a sexualised unhinged person, which unfortunately gave the impression that it was the “writer’s” view of the bomber as some sort of sexy crazy person, which is clichéd in the worst and just not true to the psychology of women who choose to do this. Part of me wonders if this was intentional, the actor and director exploring how in theatre we often create easy recognisable characters before we give them depth, but the fact was that the change in the portrayal wasn’t enough, there wasn’t enough depth given later on for me to believe this was intentional, or if it was it wasn’t executed as well as it should have been.

This play has some beautiful and horrid images, quite apart from the screen projections which I often found seriously distracting from the play, the actors themselves created beautiful images that stay with you. The bomber’s naked back in the dim glowing light bathing from a small bowl in preparation, the bomber getting her hair repeatedly plaited for her by the writer, pages of the script from the writer that through an act of violence becomes a bomb being forcefully put into the bombers womb.

I say this is a play to take friends to; I certainly enjoyed debating it afterwards with mine. As a play calculated to make you think about who these women are and why they do it, and about creation and theatre making it succeeds very well. For me the acting let it down, but for my friend she thought the acting was great and the script let the actors down…all I can do is say how I feel, and while I hated it right after I have grown to appreciate it, it leaves strong images and thoughts in your head which is all any of us ask for from good theatre.

Runs untill: 14 May 2011
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