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Review of breaDth at Omnibus Theatre

COVID 19, remember it? Or would you rather forget it ever happened?

In BreaDth, playwright Raminder Kaur has a lot to say about the pandemic and its effect on Asian family life, the isolation of elderly people, and caregivers and young people in the UK.

Celene Shamdasani (Ayesha and Nurse), Kareem Nasif (Tahir) - credit Tarun Jasani.
Celene Shamdasani (Ayesha and Nurse), Kareem Nasif (Tahir) – credit Tarun Jasani.

Its message often feels like an opinion piece lifted from a national newspaper, Twitter feed, or breakfast news channel, with dialogue that replicates the opposing positions of Labour and Conservative ministers, each drawing swords to defend their Party position on racial abuse in Britain.

In actuality, BreaDth explores real-life experiences based on research by the Consortium on Practices of Wellbeing and Resilience among Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities.

It is a hefty and admirable project for playwright Kaur and Director Mukul Ahmed to handle, but a depiction of true events doesn’t necessarily translate to theatrical drama. What breathes life into BreaDth is its unique presentation as a multi-media piece of magic realism, with flashing multi-coloured light changes (Lighting Designer Paul Micah); a plethora of graphics (Graphic Designer Marco Gra); and projected screen images (Projections Designer Jules Deering).

Add to this the eerie sound of a pungi (Sound Designers Tarun Jasani and Karen Boswall) and you get a sense of energy, aura and timelessness, hypnotic elements that rise alongside the characters like a snake to a snake charmer’s call.

The first character we meet is Ibn Khalid (Rez Kabir), an ancient mystic reminiscent of a whirling dervish. With one hand pointed outward he swirls ’round in a misty fog. Ibn transports us back to 1350 when The Black Death, the most fatal pandemic in human history, caused the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Europe and Asia, and those who lived through it sought to drive Muslims and Jews from their homeland.

As Ibn whirls away, the scene shifts to a modern-day Asian family sequestered by Covid 19, struggling with limited resources and the demands of ageing parents no longer independent and requiring frequent care.

Much of the family responsibility falls to Aysha (Celine Shamdasani), who is trapped indoors with her bored, unruly children, the care of her husband’s parents, and her husband Tahir (Kareem Nasif), a part-time care worker who seems oblivious to his wife’s stressful existence.

Aysha has a lot to say about White prejudice and governmental injustice against Black and Asian communities in Britain, while Tahir seems to consider prejudice as part of the landscape in which he lives. His tepid views irritate the fierce Aysha.

When Tahir is assigned to take care of Edie (Érin Geraghty) an elderly widow plagued by dementia and memories of a dead husband, much of what Aysha says about England and its White inhabitants comes to pass.

The sad thing about the character of Edie is that she’s written as pure stereotype, an old person with no desire in life, waiting for the grim reaper and living in the past.

It serves to foster the mounting prejudice towards old people as a useless drain on society, although I realise this was not the playwright’s intention.

BreaDth is an earnest endeavour that works best when it speaks from an organic thrust, rather than from a scripted political platform. Its characters need to be flesh and blood human beings who say these words, rather than the political mouthpieces they portray. But the inventive use of sound, lighting and screen projection provide a delightful BreaDth to this worthwhile endeavour.

3 Star Review

Review by Loretta Monaco

Join Ibn Khaldun, medieval mystic, polymath and jurist, on a journey from the Great Plague to the COVID-19 pandemic through the lives of older people and the racial minorities that care for them. From football to racism to pet tortoises, follow stories of different families in this multi-media, magical realist drama.

Based on true experiences, breaDth takes us through the challenges, loves and humour behind these stories.

The interviews that inform the script were collected by researchers for the Consortium on Practices of Wellbeing and Resilience among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities (ESRC).

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