Kira Browne enjoys Hamza Adam Rafique’s play full of space and sisterhood.
Sandwiched between two other fantastic student-written plays as part of the Durham Drama Festival, Marsistan presents the story of two Muslim sisters coming to terms with their differences, similarities, and ultimately their strong family bond, as one of them prepares for a one way mission to Mars. Believable viewpoints and realistic character development make this play enjoyable to watch, although the actors’ emotions were not quite as convincing as they perhaps could have been. That said, the compelling script and original plot mean that this play is well worth watching.
The intimate venue, with the audience sharing the stage with the actors, was a lovely setting for this play, and the small cast and simple set allowed the full focus to be on the actors and their changing relationship. Although less tense and perhaps less dramatic than the other two plays, Hamza Adam Rafique’s script beautifully and sensitively portrays conflicting ideas on religion, race, and the importance of family relationships. The characters’ discussions and viewpoints are well-written and believable, and the development of their relationship throughout the play was realistic and heart-warming.
The acting was mainly convincing, and although sometimes the emotions seemed slightly stifled, the ‘confessions’ scene towards the end was a real highlight, where the connection between the two sisters, competently played by Layla Chowdhury and Anousha Persson, really came across. At times, however, the play could have been improved by stronger use of voice, physicality and facial expressions to really bring out the opposing but connected characters. There were no blackouts to change scenes, and I felt these would have been useful to avoid seeing the actors out of character walking to their place for the next scene. At the very least it would have been better if the actors had waited a little longer in their pauses before moving. However, in general, the play was slick and well-performed.
In spite of – or maybe because of – the simple set, space was used well, and the different levels of standing, sitting on blocks, and sitting on the floor enabled different emotions to be emphasised. Lighting was functional, but simple, and could have been used to a greater extent to highlight characters or change the tone. However, the interwoven telephone calls were a lovely touch, which not only allowed for long-distance communication between the sisters, but also for the clever inclusion of extra characters, as well as exposing the characters’ feelings at different points.
Marsistan is a fairly short play, but this works well as it allows a good pace to be kept and the story to unfold naturally and end at its logical conclusion, without dragging on. Although there is not much actual action contained in the plot, this does not cause the play to drag at all, but rather means the audience focusses more on the sisterly relationship presented, which itself becomes a protagonist in a play with only two cast members.
Overall, I really enjoyed watching this play, and the themes covered were really interesting. The acting was very good, although not outstanding, the venue was lovely, and I came away feeling happy and having hope for the world! The show is on for one more night only, so if you want an incredible evening of student theatre, head down to Caedmon Hall and Hild Bede tonight at 7:30pm for a real treat.
Marsistan will be playing on the 10th February as part of DDF’s Black Box line-up in Caedmon Hall, The College of St. Hild and St. Bede, starting at 7:30pm.
Photograph: Anna Haines