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27th October 2016

Review: B!RTH Festival’s India & China

Elise Gallagher tells us about some of the inpsiring plays premiering at The Royal Exchange as part of its B!RTH Festival

The Royal Exchange’s B!RTH festival celebrates the power of the playwright and it’s ability for the stage to provoke debate and action. The B!RTH festival was created in partnership with the Royal Exchange’s long-standing collaborators Brentwood and The Oglesby Charitable Trust, resulting in the commission of seven inspiring female writers from across the globe in order to develop seven new plays. These plays will premiere at the Royal Exchange exploring arguments surrounding birth across the world.

On Wednesday the 19th of October I was lucky enough to see ‘Ouroboros’ (India) and ‘A Son Soon’ (China). The two plays performed one after the over explore notions of sterilisation and tradition.

The first, ‘Ouroboros’ (India), written by Swati Simha and directed by Emma Callander addresses mass sterilisation in poor rural areas of India. There it is commonplace for women, many of whom are illiterate, to be given incentives in order to go through with the procedure. As well as portraying the pressure doctors are under to meet targets, the play also explores the story of a doctor who is haunted by her role in India’s population control crisis. Performed by Mina Anwar, Elizabeth Chan, Nadia Emam, and Purveen Hussain, the stage consists of four seats, four lecterns, a screen, and a spotlight.

As expected Mina Anwar (who featured in both plays) was exceptional, easily toying with the audience’s emotions. The stark contrast between her two characters illustrates the talent she has. What I found most astonishing about this production was that Swati Simha is just 24 years old and is already one of India’s most exciting new playwrights. Her writing is incredibly moving and targeted, as well as providing some light relief.

The second, ‘A Son Soon’ (China), written by Xu Nuo and translated by Jeremy Tiang, is much more light hearted than Simha’s piece. Performed by Mina Anwar, Elizabeth Chan, and Shobna Gulati the play follows two women visiting a shamen to ask for guidance. Whilst one has the money to buy her way out of the government’s two child policy, the other does not.

Nuo believes that the main issue in global inequality within China is the speed of growth and disparity between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural. The line that stuck with me most was: “I often feel in China that a women’s womb doesn’t belong to her.” This echoed to me the constraints of faith, tradition, spirituality, and expectation which must weigh countless women down in a multitude of cultures.

Elizabeth Chan, who also featured fantastically in both productions, played a ghost in the first performance which was lighthearted and tragic at the same time, whilst her performance in ‘A Son Soon’ (China) beautifully projected the weight of guilt many women still unfortunately carry when a couple is blessed with a girl instead of a boy.

All scripts from the B!RTH series will be available online in order to share and carry on the debate. You can find more information here.

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