Marsistan

Mon 13th – Sun 26th August 2018

reviews

Thomas Goodyer

at 17:53 on 16th Aug 2018

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Nadiya Hussain’s beaming, scarfed head staring out from under the headline “Am I Bakeoff’s Token Muslim?” It’s an important question. Who has control over racial and religious representation: terrorists crouched in runnels of Levantine sand? Nadiya, as she watches the queen slice the 90th birthday cake she made her? The producers of The Great British Bakeoff? The viewers? In ‘Marsistan,’ a two-person show by the Lion Theatre Company, Aysha (played by Layla Chowdhury), a second generation immigrant and astronaut, scoffs at the suggestion she has a duty to her race to take back control of its representation from terrorism and right wing reactionaries: “What, I should be more like that Bakeoff woman?”

Should she? ‘Marsistan’ follows the question's implications, in a broad sense and a personal sense, through a series of clashes with her sister Nasreen (Anusha Persson), who holds the opposite view from her: that she does have a duty to be a role model for the Muslim and South Asian community. Winding, schismatic, pressed by the immanence of Aysha’s permanent departure to Mars, it’s not a straightforward conflict, but it’s one the show handles with maturity and honesty. Both sides are given unbiased attention and space to show their nuance by writer Hamza Adam Rafique, who is repaid by the accomplished readings given by both actresses.

Handling this complexity while retaining emotional relevance is a very hard job, but the show does well to keep both areas tended to. However, at times the transition between the political and personal can feel a little forced, undermining the premise that the two are intimately linked.

But it’s a compliment that by far the worst thing about the show is the fact it is playing to a tucked away back room of a hotel rather than somewhere bigger. It almost illustrates the shows own points about the problems with public representation of the South Asian community that more people aren’t able to see this astute deliberation on race, religion and family.

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Claire Louise Richardson

at 11:38 on 17th Aug 2018

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Lion Theatre Company’s ‘Marsistan’ is an unusual piece of new writing that successfully combines themes of space travel and racial prejudice. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it really does. The title is a portmanteau of Mars and Pakistan, and the performance combines these two themes throughout. Mars is used to represent destiny, and Pakistan to represent origin, and this play sits between the two in order to examine their association in relation to Muslim identity. Character Dr Aysha Malik is a scientist who, as part of ‘Project Venture’, has the opportunity to travel to Mars as part of a colonisation programme. The catch: if she goes, she will not return.

The play is then a series of dialogues between Aysha and her sister Nasreen, in a tense lead up to the mission launch. Nasreen is desperately pleading her sister to stay. The girls are of Pakistani Muslim origin, and Aysha is torn between, on one side, her love for her sister, and the weight of religious responsibly, with the pull of her ambition and reality of her atheist views, on the other. It's no surprise that Hamza Adam Rafique won a best writing award for this piece at the Durham Drama Festival 2018. He delicately combines intriguing ideas with a deft hand.

While it seems unlikely that Mars' colonisation missions will be taking place in the near future, the issues in this piece are still relatable and topical. Anyone watching has felt the strains of family pressures and duties, and anyone watching has had to choose between what we are told and what we believe is right. Anyone watching has also, to some extent, faced pressure from the assumptions that people make due to background and appearances. You don’t need to relate to the religion or career in this play to catch a glimpse of yourself in the characters and their conflict.

My only real criticism was that as the play reached its conclusion I would have liked the emotion that the girls portrayed to reach a greater climax. While the story and pressures that they were depicting built, the ending fell slightly flat. However, with a dynamic combination of themes, and their fantastic portrayals, this is a great piece for the Fringe. I look forward to what the future holds for Lion Theatre.

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