In Islamic religion, Muslim men who die as "believers" are rewarded with 72 beautiful perpetual virgins as wives in heaven. These women are known as houris. In Emina Ashman's Make Me A Houri, two women who meet in the afterlife begin to question and confront how religion and society view and use their bodies and their spirits.
Ashman creates some moving poetry with her story of these two women as they
come to grapple with their own desire and the expectations placed upon them. Regardless
how confronting the topics discussed are, through her considered and open dialogue, she allows the audience to lower their guard and be drawn into what
is transpiring. Where this story comes up short is that the characters are
largely unchanged throughout it. There is no build up to anything climatic or
revelatory and the women remain static as they recall personal experiences
that lead into deeper philosophical analysis.
Nisha Joseph has a wonderful presence on stage delivering great
characterisation with a nuanced representation of Safia. She brings her natural
flair for comedy and sincerity to the forefront of her performance. Ashman, who
also stars in Make Me A Houri, finds a grace and innocence with her portrayal of Asmara,
a woman who needs to choose if she will become a houri or not.
Lara Week's set design which has the floor covered in leaves, hints towards
a hereafter without pain and suffering but the overturned fridge and cupboard disrupt
this notion, and the idea that something is not quite right starts to brew.
Together with Sidney Millar's mesmerising sound design and composition, there
is a constant balancing act of depicting this paradise while presenting the
cracks of said paradise.
Make Me A Houri might be gentle in its
approach, but it opens important conversations - as well as hearing from women
whose voices are not often presented - on the sexism they face daily and
attempts by society to control and monitor their bodies. However, in order to become an accomplished piece of theatre, it requires
some structural changes to the narrative and the energy of the characters need to be more distinct.
Venue: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St. Carlton.
Season: until 4 August | Wed & Fri 8:30pm. Thur & Sat - Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $30 Full | $20 Conc
Bookings: La Mama Theatre
Image Credit: Keith Costelo