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The Power (of) The Fragile – Shubbak Festival

The beginning really is the beginning in this production, with Mohamed Toukabri showing his mother Latifa around the stage. The assumption is, for dramatic purposes, that she hasn’t been to the theatre before, and therefore has terminology introduced to her – upstage left, tiered seating (and tiered pricing), the fourth wall, and so on. Okay, so technically her blocking is remarkable for a character who isn’t supposed to know at this point what blocking even is, but the audience’s suspension of disbelief and the wider themes the show teases out make up for what is, in the grand scheme of things, a negligible point.

The Power (of) The Fragile. Photo by Christian Tandberg

Mohamed’s backstory is largely told through direct addresses to the audience. When he begins to tell his mother’s story, ostensibly because she doesn’t speak English but he does, she insists on telling it herself. It is, of course, surtitled. This long, pivotal scene showcases the production’s creativity. The audience sees paraphrases rather than full translations, and while the salient points are clear enough, it’s meant to be indicative of how people from overseas who aren’t fully conversant in the main language of the country they have moved to can feel. They understand what’s being said up to a point, but there is evidently so much more that is just going over the top of their heads.

The stage is bare, with a white dance floor and black curtains – some props and costumes are used, sparingly at first, before a final spectacle. Mohamed seems to want to have his cake and eat it, draping his mother in a European Union flag and giving her a Union Jack (or a Union Flag, for those who insist, despite the Flag Institute refuting the assertion, that the term Union Jack is only permissible when it is used in the context of a jack flag on a ship) to hold and wave, thus satisfying the fifty-two percent as well as the forty-eight percent with regards to You Know What.

Latifa made several attempts to obtain a visa to visit her son, who was studying at the time at the Performing Arts Research and Training Studios (‘P.A.R.T.S.’ to its staff, alumni and students), a school for contemporary dance in Brussels, without success – she even missed Mohamed’s graduation ceremony: “It should be my right to see my child. But it isn’t.” Being finally reunited, as it were, after fourteen years apart, produces the rush of emotions one would reasonably expect a loving mother to display, and then some. This show itself, Mohamed explains, was repeatedly postponed – yes, there was a pandemic, but even allowing for that, it was really down to bureaucracy.

The openminded will not be fazed by what transpires on stage, and I didn’t see anything gratuitous going on. The levels of touch and personal intimacy between mother and (grown-up) son would be unusual in Blighty and may even be regarded by some as borderline inappropriate. But they just do things differently in Tunisia, where the family is from. Broadly speaking, the story they tell is on a road well-travelled. There are so many versions of the story about migrating away from the place where one grew up, whether it’s moving somewhere sunnier than England, fleeing from war, or, as Latifa did decades ago, getting a job in another country. But this one is their story, told with an astonishing array of different dance genres, from ballet to breakdancing, as well as spoken word. A curious and quirky production with a narrative delivered with energy and enthusiasm.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

In The Power (of) The Fragile Mohamed invites Latifa, his mother with him on stage. After being apart for several years, they find each other again in the theatre.

The meeting of two worlds, two bodies, two minds. Latifa always dreamt of being a dancer, Mohamed made it his profession. The borders of their bodies blur, making it hard to decipher where one ends and the other starts. Their lives and dreams start to merge, and only time claims its space between mother and son.

Shubbak Festival
Mohamed Toukabri
27 – 29 June 2023

Presented by BAC and Shubbak Festival

Concept & Choreography: Mohamed Toukabri
Performance: Mimouna (Latifa) Khamessi and Mohamed Toukabri
Dramaturgy: Diane Fourdrignier
Technical Direction & Scenography: Lies Van Loock
Technical Coordination Tour: Matthieu Vergez
Sound Design & Artistic Advice: Annalena Fröhlich
Sound Technician: Paola Pisciottano
Costume Design: Ellada Damianou
Research & Development: Eva Blaute
Executive Production: Caravan Production
Co-production: Needcompany, Vooruit, Beursschouwburg, Dansens Hus Oslo
Residency Support: Cultuurcentrum De Factorij, Needcompany, Vooruit, Charleroi Danse

With the support of The Flemish Authorities and the Flemish Community Commission

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  5. Review of Response 2 Power at the Old Red Lion Theatre


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