Behind every door there is…an unseen woman. The Unseen Woman, a production to be performed on Tuesday and Wednesday in Week 9, reveals these women and tells their stories. The innovative interweaving of three contemporary plays by British Asian writers – Bells by Yasmin Whittaker Kahn; Chaos by Azma Dar; and Ammah by Takbir Uddi – will allow British audiences access to a strikingly different culture, but one that very much exists within their own. Latest official estimates indicate that British-Indians number almost a million, the British-Pakistani community a further 675,000 and Bangladeshi 257,000 (source: BBC news). Additionally, a further 242,000 people in Britain have varying Asian backgrounds; a clear indication that the time is ripe for their culture to be discovered and understood by the rest of the country. The Birmingham Rep certainly thinks so; Kali Theatre Company’s touring productions of Bells and Chaos began life in The Door, the theatre’s studio space, and Ammah debuted at their showcase for new, young writers, The Transmissions Festival, last July. In 21st century, multicultural Britain, the issues raised in the plays, as the productions’ acclaimed runs show, can no longer be ignored.
Each of the plays lets us into a world rarely seen and often suppressed; from the decadent mujra club hidden behind the façade of a respectable butcher’s shop in Bells, to the local muslim councilor hiding his cultural identity that creates Chaos, via the eponymous Ammah, featuring a matriarch trying to hide her dishonoured son’s marriage to a gori (white girl), behind an arranged marriage. As articulated by Azma Dar, all three explore and combine the ‘cliches of a British-Asian family battling to straddle two cultures’. Dar’s central characters in Chaos represent the difficulties of such duplicity through the juxtaposition of Mr Rizvi’s westernised attitude with Mrs Rizvi’s traditional, almost fundamentalist views. Yasmin Whittaker Khan exposes in Bells the supposedly respectful, religious Asians who visit the exotic mujra clubs, with their dancing girls and prostitutes, ‘condemning these vulnerable women in public whilst pursuing them in private’. Finally, Ammah by Takbir Uddin addresses the problem of mixed race relationships in contemporary Britain: ‘I wanted to get the message across that these things happen and we have to accept it and move on to bring cultures closer together.’
The York University production, from the same team who presented last term’s The Vagina Monologues to you, is a benefit performance for the Anah project, a Women’s Refuge for Asian Women who have suffered from domestic violence, based in Bradford. The women that receive help from the project are very much like those represented on stage in The Unseen Woman, in that they all face varieties of domestic abuse: financial, emotional, physical, psychological, sexual. Women fight this treatment daily, unseen and unacknowledged and since the charity’s inception in 1993, The Anah Project has offered safe and secure accommodation for Asian women without children. The work of the Anah project is vital, as Asian women fleeing domestic abuse need a refuge in which their culture, tradition and unique situation will be both understood and respected.
By buying a ticket to this show you will not only be treating yourself to an evening’s entertainment, but also helping women who, without charities and events such as this, would remain unseen. As the director Amy Beeson demands, ‘If women don’t draw attention to the plight of other women, then who else will?’