Tristan Bates Theatre, London ***
Considering the number of theatres and companies supporting new writing, it’s still a bit of a mystery as to why so few plays by women playwrights still find their way into the mainstream or fringe theatres.
Be that as it may, to their great credit, Kali, the company set up in 1991 by Rita Wolf and Rukhsana Ahmad `to encourage, develop and present new theatre writing by women from a South Asian background’ are now in the midst of their own annual new writing festival, Talkback. Not only is Sharon Raizada’s Bitched being given a full staged production but it will run and share the next two weeks with no less than seven other writers.
And judging by Bitched, they won’t all be themed uniquely around South Asian issues. That in itself, you’d have to say, is real progress, spreading out from the ghetto into the full flowing river of human experience.
Bitched, in fact, was part of Kali’s 2015 Talkback festival. Since then Raizada appears to have built up an impressive backlist of theatres who’ve supported her work including the Royal Court, Soho, Hampstead and Oval House as well as tv and radio.
Bitched certainly bears the hall-marks of the latter. A portrait of modern marriage, motherhood and the working woman under pressure, it certainly doesn’t pull its punches. Raizada’s dialogue is unflinching in the way she captures speech that symbiotically interweaves between everyday conversations and those portrayed on tv as if both were entwined and feeding off each other.
In that sense, Bitched perhaps rides too much on the tv formula but within that is painfully true in its contrasting pairing of young parents, Ali and Rob struggling to make ends meet against Suzanne and Nirjay, older parents, more sophisticated and art collectors.
What ensues is a very contemporary questioning of the traditional role of the male as provider and woman as home-maker. Raizada gives us some sharp insider views of the emotional tugs-of-war that go on between married couples.
For Ali and Rob what starts out as mutual loving and sharing becomes steadily more conflicted under Rob’s ambition to make a success of his painting talent whilst Ali begins to challenge her sole role of mother, being taken for granted by Rob and the loss of a modest career she once had as a hair stylist.
In a way, Bitched is all about women straining for and not being prepared to put up with identities in which they do not feel fully satisfied.
In the wake of feminism’s `women can have it all’ – independence, marriage and a career as a working woman’ – Bitched is yet another of a number of contemporary plays over the past decade that have begun to show the strain `having it all’ entails. And here, it applies equally to the `professional pair’, Suzanne and Nirjay, whose partnership, floundering for more complex reasons, comes to impinge and deeply affect Rob and Ali.
Director Juliet Knight works wonders in the Tristan Bates small studio space and Raizada’s short staccato scenes. Robert Mountford makes Nirjay a disconcerting maverick, both bully and vulnerable whilst Viss Elliot Safavi’s Suzanne conveys a small dynamo of suppressed grief.
As the young innocents, Darren Douglas’s Rob is recognisably loving but insensitive, Shireen Farkhoy’s Ali a chrysalis slowly emerging into independence who reaches a birthing climax that is as dramatic as it is, for her, liberating.
All the same, one worries about her future as a single mother of two…possibly, who knows, the subject for a sequel. Time will tell.
Bitched doesn’t offer any easy answers. A promising start.
Rob: Darren Douglas
Ali: Shireen Farkhoy
Suzanne: Viss Elliot Safavi
Nirjay: Robert Mountford
Director: Juliet Knight
Lighting: Jai Morjaria
Sound: Rebecca Smith
Associate Director: Sita Thomas
Fight Director: Claire Llewellyn
Presented by Kali Theatre as part of their Talkback 2017 festival of new writing by South Asian female playwrights.
Bitched London premiere at the Tristan Bates Theatre, Oct 25, 2017.
Bitched was developed through Kali’s Writer Development programme and presented as a reading at Talkback 2015.
Review published on this site, Oct 28, 2017