In this blog we are hoping to host a range of short pieces of writing (and possibly audio/video files) that articulate responses to our show Niqabi Ninja. Some of the contributions will have been gathered via invitation, but we also hope that members of the public who have experienced the journey of the show will feel prompted to post here.
To start us off I wanted to reflect on some of what has made directing this show such an extraordinary experience for me. In an attempt to keep myself from getting too expansive, I’ve made a list:
- It is an utterly brilliant piece of writing. It is dark, beautiful, rageful and tremendously moving. It is everything you want from a piece of new writing as a director, because it is so open to interpretation but utterly specific about its vision simultaneously. Every word, every interaction between Shaarawi’s two characters hold power, and it has been my job, alongside the performers and the wider team to harness that power.
- Whilst Niqabi Ninja has been staged in Uganda and South Africa and had a series of rehearsed readings in the UK, this is the first full UK production of Shaarawi’s play. It has taken many years to get here and I feel very proud to be bringing to life a piece that has often been described as ‘too angry’. Anger is its point, but so also is laughter and love and the extremely urgent need to fight back.
- We originally intended to present this as a stage production, but when Covid hit we decided to reimagine it. We chose a walking piece because we wanted to hold on to the embodied and visceral nature of live performance, and because it connects explicitly to the questions the piece raises about the way in which individuals have to endure endure male and misogynistic violence in public spaces. We chose to create a sound world to live alongside the text because we knew we wanted our audience to be immersed in Hana’s world as much as possible, and we chose to commission public artworks as part of the show, so that we could hold on to the aesthetic and emotional journey that our comic-book illustrator protagonist is on. We do know that the content and form of this work could be triggering for people. When you are making theatre that is committed to contributing to the resistance against gendered violence, there is nothing satisfying about work becoming more timely, as it has continued to do so this year. It just adds to our rage and prompted us to consider our audience more than ever.
- In my mind it is an act of resistance against European theatre’s inclination towards a trauma aesthetic (drawing on the critical work of Cox, Craps, Danewid, Otiende and Salverson to name but a few), a form of theatrical performance that centres and fetishes pain and suffering as a narrative tool rather than something that must be fought against, and in doing so actually compounds existing imbalances and processes embedded within what bell hooks names as the ‘commodification of Otherness’ (1992). This tendency is something that Sara and I have often raged about over the years and pushing against it was at the forefront of our minds as myself and the creative team brought her world to life, especially given that the work is set in Cairo and yet being presented within a European context.
- THE TEAM!!! If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you check out the info about all of the incredible talent working on this project. The expertise, the artistic vision and the ethical rigour of each person who has brought this show to where it is, has been truly nourishing. I’m not saying it’s been easy – in many ways making work like this should never be easy – but there has been a shared commitment to treating the piece with care, to treating each other with care and to always taking the time to be reflective and for us to act as each other’s critical friends along the way. And it is from this shared commitment that the beauty of the work is born.
Catrin Evans, 7 July 2021