Review: Inside Voices, Pit (The Vaults). Vaults Festival 2019

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

Inside Voices is a challenging, enchanting and wonderfully uplifting piece presented by international and multicultural collective Lazy Native, who self proclaim to champion Southeast Asian work, something they wholeheartedly achieve by showcasing Nabilah Said’s provocative writing. Focussing on three variegated Muslim women Nisa, Fatima and Lily, Inside Voices sheds a light on the three’s different perspectives and shared experiences as women of their faith and culture. Situating the dialogue on a fantasy plain reached through slumber or a mind place, the writing conjures a vibrant world of impossible dreams in which Nisa, Fatima and Lily regularly meet to discuss the constraints they feel due to their gender and subservience, momentarily together they wish for something more, or simply different.

Staged in the round, this piece is incredibly immersive, the three actors consummately pro-teming as storytellers informing each other and their audience, in a personable manner, of outside expectations and of their struggles. Often shown by the three women chattering amongst themselves and speaking over each other, consolidating the audience into their gossiping collective. Allowing for the development of a balanced and witty ensemble driven delivery. With much of the conversing revolving around food, the smell of ‘Fatima’s cooking’ wafts throughout the playing space and engulfs the audience, representing her laborious completion of domestic obligations over the years, something later indicated by her weaving a garland of flowers. Another domestic act and symbol of marriage, but one that seems to reflect the way she feels about her existence, the picked flowers are strung onto a garland, their beauty momentary and doomed to wither and eventually die, much like her youth. The construction of this imagery, thus beautifully engendering an overall sense of the character’s regret and obligation.

Whilst Fatima seems to deplore her choices, the characterisation of Lily is intriguingly constructed as a free spirit, a contrasting counterpart. She is astonishingly unapologetic, piquant and ebullient. The rebel as it were, with her refusing to ‘play by society’s rules’. For instance, Nisa and Fatima discuss the importance of being good in the kitchen and looking nice in order to keep your man, whilst Lily pointedly remarks that though it is expected, nobody can be good at everything and how exhausting it is to try, questioning why things can’t be different. Leaving Nisa as the youthful, idealistic middle ground. She clutches the youth Fatima laments and is seemingly heading down the same path already married, whilst her utopian thoughts occasionally align with Lily’s. Said must thus be congratulated on creating such effervescent and driven characters, manifesting as both raw and risible. Whilst the delivery from Siti Zuraida, (Lily), Suhaili Safari, (Nisa) and Nur Khairiyah Ramli, (Fatima) is equally as strong and beguiling.

The overall drive of the commentary is importantly focussed on that of intersectionality, Islamophobia and the #MeToo movement. Though these thematics start out as little nuggets hidden within the piece, we are eventually force-fed a lot of the ideology, unfortunately not allowing the work to subtly speak for itself. That being said there are wonderful moments of sisterhood and solidarity, for example when Fatima rubs Nisa’s belly to help her digestion, demonstrating her seniority or, when the women take a moment to remember those who had fought for them, such as Joan of Ark and Malala Yousafzai. Similarly, there are fleeting and poignant mentions of domestic abuse, miscarriage and the wearing of the burka, an exegesis on identity, the female experience and freedom. Culminating in an interesting excursion, but one that perhaps doesn’t have quite the dramatic climax it deserves, instead it is an ethereal and haunting dialogue, all set on one level.

To conclude the witty and often sad conversing of the three women, does much to for the most part foster a clever and emotive dialogue on the world of women, particularly of Southeast Asian Muslim women. It is jovial, but overall dark and piercing.

 
Siti Zuraida – Lily
Suhaili Safari – Nisa
Nur Khairiyah Ramli – Fatima

Writer: Nabilah Said
Director: Zhui Ning Chang
Designer: Rana Fadavi
Lighting: Raycher Phua
Sound: Nicola Chang
Production: Deanna Dzulkifli for Lazy Native

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