- Gareth K Vile
- 13 August 2021
Devastating audio-story performance piece tackles the brutal oppression of women in Sara Shaarawi's uncompromising International Festival work
Niqabi Ninja discusses the urgent social problem of rape culture in an emotive and intelligent manner, and simultaneously asks vital questions about the way in which performance is capable of articulating uncomfortable truths. Sara Shaarawi's script imagines a conversation between a comic-book writer and her creation, tracing the writer's experience of abuse and harassment in Egypt and London, culminating in an agonising description of the 2013 gang rapes in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
As the audio-story accompanies listeners on a walk through Edinburgh's streets, Shaarawi's protagonists unearth a narrative of violence that enlists the graphic novel superhero, city architecture, the myth of Isis, and revenge fantasies into a provocative reflection on the brutal oppression of women. Rather than simply condemning rape culture, and although statistics and exact details of sexual harassment and assault are important, Shaarawi depicts personal experiences to intensify her argument. By placing an audience in the streets, outside of a containing theatre, the production translates its Egyptian context into a broader commentary on the persistent and consistent proliferation of rape culture across national and cultural borders.
Director Catrin Evans works with an expansive dramaturgy founded in the listener's footsteps, while Rebecca Banatvala and Juliana Yazbeck capture a passionate debate between the artist Hannah and their own work through assured and subtle performances. From an initial mention of Marvel superhero Dust – herself a problematic representation of an Islamic woman – to the various pictures posted along the route, Shaarawi's script suggests the necessity of a new, avenging protector.
From here, the final, redemptive violence becomes less of a fantasy than a positive resistance to male power: an extended argument between Hannah and the Niqabi Ninja emphasises tension between the importance of truth and imaginative resolution in the creative process. Yet ultimately, the emotional impact of Niqabi Ninja is devastating: it rages, it catalogues and it exposes, refusing to offer easy solutions. This is a remarkable production that sears and attacks, as forceful and formidable as the final speech that promises protection.
Niqabi Ninja, Royal Lyceum Theatre, until Saturday 28 August (not Sundays & Mondays), every 15 minutes from 6.45pm to 9.15pm, £5–£15 Pay What You Can.