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Tales of the Harrow Road

In-Sook Chappell
Soho Theatre
(2010)

Tales of the Harrow Road production photo

Developed from workshops with Arab and Bangladeshi women in the Paddington area, Suzanne Gorman's production of Tales of the Harrow Road uses both professional actresses and a cast drawn from the local community to tell these carefully interwoven stories from their lives. They are linked by a pavement café where some of the characters work and others meet, with pavement life and passers-by beautifully orchestrated with the community performers.

One strand follows a young Bangladeshi woman looking for a husband through a marriage broker and picking up an offer from a Bangladesh pop superstar on the way. Balvinder Sopal makes Mukti a lively personable young woman. She has chucked a career in management consultancy she hated to work in a library and clearly knows her own mind but is happy to go along with the traditional procedures. Matchmaker Joy has a very modern attitude too and involves Mukti closely - this isn't the old parent-driven arranged marriage most westerners think happens and Harvey Virdi knows how to makes Joy funny without tipping it into caricature.

Another story concerns an Iranian mother and her daughter. The daughter Leyla (Hara Yannas), a single mother herself, brought up British, knows little of her father or her background. Badria Timimi plays her mother Sukaina as a very controlled and rather cold woman but we see her gradually melt as she reveals her tragic story of romance and right wing repression in Iran and unfulfilling wanderings after.

That Iranian strand includes a backwards look, a reminder that many immigrants are here seeking refuge, but this is very much a picture of lives here and now. Some of its most poignant situations are momentary glimpses that hint at untold stories. There is a Muslim woman in black hijab dress desperately wanting to talk and spilling out words to someone who knows only the odd phrase of Arabic, a woman who in a power cut is driven by fear of the dark to knock on the door of a neighbour but retreats from contact as soon as the lights come on and, in one beautiful gesture, a woman shedding her hijab to reveal a glittering gown and deliver a poem which, though its language may not be understood, is elegantly and feelingly spoken.

The local talent contest in which that poem finds a place is perhaps just a little too awkwardly like the real thing but it gives an opportunity for some sparky tap, for Mukti to get to sing and even for a bit of Bangla.

It seems a little facile to contrast Mukti with an irresponsible young white prostitute doing community service in the library, but it does give representation to a profession that has long been an element of the area,. On the opening night some of the community players seemed a little intimidated by their debuts but they will surely gain the same confidence they display as passers by within the group, The pleasure they show in being part of the performance and having stories told that relate to them adds much to the vitality of this production.

Ends at Soho Theatre on 6th November, then Cockpit Theatre 10th - 13th November 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton