Handful of Henna

Rani Moorthy

Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, followed by a schools' tour in the autumn

(2006)

Review by Philip Seager

This World Premiere, directed by Karen Simpson, was presented to an audience largely made up of children from local schools, with a sprinkling of adults. The excitement was intense as they waited in a darkened auditorium, while a late arriving bus-load were ushered in.

Suddenly the monsoon rains descended and passers-by rushed across the stage, umbrellas aloft, clad in their brightly coloured eastern clothes. They took little notice of the mother and daughter, sitting on their suitcases arguing while they waited for their family to turn up to meet them from the airport. The mother dressed in local costume was being harangued by her daughter, in jeans and tee-shirt, angry that she had been taken away from her school friends to visit her mother's homeland, about which she knew little and resented what she knew.

At last, the family arrive, greet the mother warmly, but are not prepared to tolerate any nonsense from her daughter. They cleverly transfer a long bench into a bus, with black spinning umbrellas providing the motion, except when the not very attentive driver brakes suddenly and they all go flying.

Once at their village, the tension builds, and the mother, Saheeda relives episodes from her past life while Nasreen sleeps on the same hard bed on which her mother slept all those years ago. We hear of her departure to Saudi where she was married to a man she had never met, but was rich, and from England to which she set off, carrying inside her the future Nasreen.

We learn of the value of a handful of Henna decorating the hands; it is valuable in combating misfortune and overcoming tragedy.

The bride is being prepared for the great ceremony and all dance before her to music with a rhythm that pullls you to your feet urging you to join in. The willowy swaying of the dancers, young and old, amateurs all, grips the audience in a way that cannot be rejected, and they clap in unison.

It is dangerous to use the word 'unique' about anything in the theatre - it was probably initiated by Chaucer - but this is undoubtedly an unusual production, with only two professional actors, Saheeda, the mother and Nasreen the daughter, played by Goldy Notay and Krupa Pattani in a remarkably effective and exciting manner. The remaining eleven women on stage were local residents of widely varying ages - the youngest was seven - trained to a remarkable degree to work together in a process of ever-changing movement to the expressive music.

The performance, written by Rani Moorthy and based on stories provided by Muslim women, certainly achieves its aim of drawing together life from the east and the west. It is to tour local schools in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, funded by the National Lottery, and launches the Children's festival in Sheffield