The House Of Bilquis Bibi

Mutter mutter, mumble mumble …..there’s something going on here, but for
much of the time I wasn’t at all sure what.

I’ve seen The House of Bernarda
Alba (Lorca’s classic on which Sudha Bhuchar has based her new play for
Tamasha) more than once, but lazy diction meant that neither I nor my
companion could make out a significant proportion of what was being said.

Matters weren’t helped by the decision to speak portions of the dialogue in
the local language – not necessarily a problem in itself, but definitely an
issue when the words are so indistinct that one can’t always be sure when
dialect blends into English.

Bhuchar has relocated this Andalusian drama (written in 1936 but first
performed posthumously almost a decade later) from Spain to present day
Pakistan where tyrannical, twice widowed Bilquis Bibi rules her household of
two servants and five unmarried daughters with a harsh impatience. Her
spinster brood may have mobiles, but they’re still frustrated by a society
in which brides must be virgins and come with a dowry.

Bilquis has already turned away more than one possible suitor – no one’s
good enough – and only her eldest, Abida, is currently courting. Or at
least, that’s the situation on the surface. But she’s not the only sister
craving (or, in the case of Aroosa, actually getting) the attention of this
unseen suitor and tragedy looms in this restless hotbed of stifled emotions.

When you can hear them, the lines often impress, but why Kristine
Landon-Smith, co-founder and artistic director of this 21 year old British
Asian company, has chosen to have many of them spoken from behind a muffling
wall is a mystery. And although the move to the Punjab is potentially
fruitful, an already static play needs performances of far greater clarity
and calibre to make this updated tale of female repression worth a visit.


Hampstead, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
020 7722 9301
Tube: Swiss Cottage tube
Until 14th August
£15-£25 (Under 26s – £10)

Review: Louise Kingsley