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Review: FAVOUR, Bush Theatre

Ambreen Razia's enchanting new play premieres at the Bush Theatre

Review: FAVOUR, Bush Theatre Review: FAVOUR, Bush Theatre Ambreen Razia's new play paints a searing portrait of a polarised family stratified across three generations of Muslim women. It is a heartfelt meditation on the meaning of duty, community, and faith with an outstanding cast delivering dynamite performances.

Aleena returns from two years in prison to her adolescent daughter Lelia and mother Noor. Noor has imposed a regimented lifestyle informed by Islam on Lelia. Inevitable clashes ensue, each more pernicious than the last. Lelia is at a crossroads; she must choose between her mother Aleena's freewheeling optimism, a life of manicures and materialism, and the woman who adopted the role of mother, her grandmother's adherence to religious obedience.

Unfolding in a single living room in a dingy yet finely detailed flat in Illford, wider themes naturally stem from this central tension like branches from a tree. Favour has the ambition and emotional yearning of a Greek tragedy yet remains firmly planted in humanity and the lived experience of its characters.

All trees need fertile soil to grow, and Favour's iridescent cast are its soil, allowing the writing to flourish. Avita Jay's thunderous performance as Aleena undulates to a scorching climax. When she explodes, she fills the theatre with terrible beauty, desperately weaponising love for her emotionally feeble daughter. But she is also incredibly vulnerable, something that she masks disconcertingly behind hollow optimism.

A fantasy sequence sees the flat transform into a beauty salon; the flat's dull brown wallpaper is bathed in electric pink light. Aleena promises to spoil her daughter with all the material goodies she desires. But this is not a celebration of motherhood, it is a slow unpeeling of Aleena's identity revealing the extent of her abject desperation for her daughter's recognition.

Above all else Aleena is a victim caught in a cycle of paranoia induced by the ever-present community, struggling to integrate back into a world where duty and honour are tantamount. Favour is a co-production with Clean Break, a theatre company which specialises in exploring relationships between women and the criminal justice system.

The Muslim community that loiters in the background has a concrete presence throughout. Its demands and expectations shape the three generations of women's lives. Razia's understanding of the nature of community is nuanced and multicoloured. It can be both a claustrophobic imposition, and a comforting shoulder to lean on for those in need, like Renu Brindle's authoritative yet understated Noor. This protean nature manifests in Rina Fatania's flamboyant Fozia, a self-righteous gossip who likes to stir the pot whilst also displaying charitable affection.

The community also promises structure for Ashna Rabheru's anxious Leila, whose beautiful naivety is quiet yet subtly poignant. Rabheru has a striking ability to evoke a fifteen-year-old girl's energy, mannerisms, and innocence. At the beginning she bounces around the stage with childlike glee, fuelled by the excitement of her mother's homecoming. By the end she is composed, finding her voice to stand up to both women vying to control.

By the curtain call the cast appear exhausted. The play is very much a psychological workout for them, but also for its audience. Razia demands reflection on their own experience with family and community. The first sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina never felt so appropriate: "All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Favour runs at the Bush Theatre until 6 August

Photo Credit: Suzi Corker

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