Abusive relationships often exist under the radar of both popular culture and real life. Therefore, it is rare to see a theatrical production that makes domestic abuse so visible.
If I Had a Girl… courageously tells the true stories of victims of honour-based violence in minority groups in Scotland, in their own words but performed by actors. Expertly staged and powerfully acted, this play brings these devastating issues into consideration.
Five actors (four women and one man) play five people with Asian-Scot heritage, particularly Pakistani Scottish: a minority who have dealt with domestic abuse. Their stories are intertwined and sometimes repeated as they experience similar physical harm, isolation, or moments of hope. However, the actors also play the secondary characters in each other’s stories.
The victim of one story, thus, seamlessly changes into the abusive mother-in-law of the next. The whirlwind of narrators and fluid characters might have become confusing, however the character transitions each impressively highlight the changes.
Manjot Sumal is particularly impressive, who, as the only male actor, plays the abusive husband to every other female character – on top of other roles, such as a goofy uncle and an innocent son. Sumal’s control over his voice and physical attitude are such that he could go from instilling blood-curdling fear in one instant to sympathy in the next. This play depicts the difficulty of leaving a marriage, when asking for help can lead to shame for yourself and your family. The humanity of these characters, their love for pop music or the beauty of their wedding ceremonies, gives weight to the darker issues.
Perhaps the most moving performance is by Rehanna MacDonald, playing a woman pressured twice by her family into what turned into abusive marriages. Her mother encourages her to remain married even through the extreme abuse. MacDonald acts with a fierce compassion, her protective love for her son compelling despite the fact the child is only a swaddled scarf.
The choreography and physical theatre throughout the production is smooth and dynamic, depicting fights in rhythmic dances or arranging bodies to become doors and walls.
In one scene, MacDonald lies on a bed formed from the backs of other actors, which then rise and fall to become the stairs her husband pushes her down. Such control and skill of the actors and the creativity of the production team is clear throughout, using every part of the actors in surprising and inventive ways.
If I Had a Girl… is a moving and emotionally educational piece that stands as an important work of theatre in its own right. However, it is the people behind the stories who are the most evocative. As part of the Violence Against Women Programme and You Can Change This campaign, this play is part of a larger machine working against sexual harassment and domestic abuse across the globe.
If I Had a Girl…
Photo courtesy of Traverse Theatre