Review by Rosie Holmes
It’s been 2 years since we came out of lockdown and society as a whole is still processing many of the traumas created by the Covid-19 pandemic. More and more, pieces of art, theatre and entertainment are beginning to reflect upon our experiences of the Pandemic. In BreaDth, writer Raminder Kaur has taken the experiences of ethnic minorities during the pandemic and transformed them into a multi-media, magic realist drama.
The show opens with Ibn Khaldun, medieval mystic, polymath and juris, who appears through a wall of smoke, and transports us back to 1350 and the years of the Plague. This setup is quicky juxtaposed, as the lights go up to reveal a contemporary family setting. A family of 4 argue over whose turn it is to use the laptop and whose turn it is to ring the doctor’s surgery the following morning to get an appointment for their elderly relatives. We are then introduced to another modern family; Edie and her daughter. Edie is suffering with dementia and in an intertwining of two storylines we see Tahir, the father of our first family, become Edie’s carer. Edie is an enthralling, often entertaining character, who harbours many preconceived ideas towards racial minorities in England, peddling out the simplistic ‘they take all our jobs’ argument towards migrants.
The premise of the piece is admirable and certainly piqued my interests when reading about it prior to attending the show. The script was informed by research and interviews carried out by the Consortium on Practices of Wellbeing and Resilience among Black Asian and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities. I therefore hoped that the show would pack more of an emotional punch than it achieved, having been created from real life experiences. There were certainly some touching moments that caused a stirring of emotion, a hug between Edie and her carer, of whom she had previously been extremely wary of due to his ethnicity, or a mother’s worry about the impact of racism on her children, but unfortunately much of the piece felt rather underwhelming.
There were plenty of good ideas within the piece and it’s certainly important that minority stories are told, which made it all the more disappointing that the stories and experiences covered in BreaDth were not fully expanded upon and felt rather under explored. Additionally, a few unconvincing performances meant it was tricky to emotionally connect with any of the characters. There were some clunky transitions that made the show rather fragmented and never allowed me to become fully immersed.
The inclusion of the medieval mystic Ibn Khaldun was an interesting choice. Having read an interview with Raminder Kaur, I discovered that Ibn Khaldun was in fact a real person who lost both his parents to the Plague in the fourteenth century. The intention here was to pitch the pandemic against the Great Plague years, vastly different but also similar in that both resulted in greater suffering by racialised minorities. Again, this could be a powerful take, yet the interactions with Ibn – who appears to Edie in a dream – didn’t really work and it felt there were too many ideas happening at once, with none being properly explored. Not fully understanding the inclusion of Ibn, until doing further research after the show, meant the mystical elements of his inclusion in the show detracted from the attempted poignancy of the contemporary families’ stories rather than enhancing it.
A six-strong cast feature in the show, with Érin Geraghty as the standout, perhaps because of what the writing for her character allowed. The character of Edie was certainly the most fleshed out, and Geraghty delivered witty one-liners while also offering a touching look at the isolation of the elderly in some of the piece’s more moving moments. Unfortunately, the writing was not consistent, meaning other characters and cast members were not afforded as much opportunity to show off their talents.
Set design by Hester Xue was simple yet effective, successfully creating the homes of two families in a small space, although I was confused by the large mass of towering cubes that stood behind the living room set up, wondering what their relevance was. Set design by Xue was accompanied by projection design by Jules Deering, which offered some lovely backdrops which added to the atmospheric and mystical interludes which occurred every time Rez Kabir’s Ibn Khaldun appeared on stage.
Telling unheard stories, especially those of a time that was so impactful, is something that I hope we see in more and more pieces, and theatre looking back on the pandemic is sure to become more frequent. Raminder Kaur’s BreaDth provides an interesting and sometimes moving look at the pandemic as well as accompanying themes of racism, isolation and suffering. However, while there were some admirable ideas included, none were executed as effectively as they could have been, meaning important themes lost a lot of their impact.
BreaDth plays at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham until 3rd June 2023, tickets are available here- BREADTH - Omnibus Theatre (omnibus-clapham.org)
Photos by Tarun Jasani