Review: Play “Women of Peace – From The Qur’an”
Where: Play Den, The Arts House
Who: Keelat Theatre Ensemble
When: 24 March 2013
By: The Arts House as part of Literally 9: Writers Party[/box_dark]
Viscerally, Islam and Theatre may not be most natural combination. But when Keelat Theatre Ensemble took it upon themselves to put on a play entitled, Women of Peace: From the Quran, they overturned even the slightest dubiety about the combination. Armed with a minimalist set consisting of a table, two stools and a long piece of cloth, the four ladies served up a theatrical concoction that captivated an audience of about 90 as part of The Arts House’s, Literally 9 – Writers Party.
The play, which admitted only women, depicted three women from the Quran as seen through “a contemporary woman’s eyes”.
Although these stories originated from the Quran, the universality of the themes and lessons that ran through them were easily relatable regardless of religious or cultural background.
The three stories that Keelat selected included the story of Maryam, the virgin mother of Prophet Jesus, Prophet Joseph and Zulaikha as well as Queen Balqis and Prophet Sulaiman.
The script, which stayed as close as possible to the original text so as to preserve authenticity, managed to effectively deliver the trials and tribulations of these three women.
When asked about the process of scripting and producing, Keelat explained that different actresses individually selected stories that resonated deeply on an emotional level, before they wrote the script which focused on a particular learning point in the story and directed the piece. This organic approach to the play came through in the immaculate investment that the actresses had in each of their roles. This allowed their intended message or moral, which had first captured their attention, to sail across the fourth wall to the audience.
While the three stories differed greatly, the running theme through them (apart from them depicting women from the Quran), was that these women found peace through their trials and tribulations. It was through their difficulties where indeed they found ease.
The first story of Maryam revealed how truth triumphed over suspicion, when baby Jesus addressed temple elders who ridiculed Mary, claiming that she were a loose unmarried woman touched by a man. This performance of Prophet Jesus’ first miracle also bespoke of the peace that Mary found in her complete submission to Allah’s will, in which she was protected by keeping silent as she was instructed by Him.
The second story of Prophet Jospeh and Zulaikha depicted the famous tale of how Zulaikha had been overcome by lust for Prophet Joseph. Her personal struggles in jostling with lust and temptations were something the audience could relate to as well.
The last story of Queen Balqis of Sheba discussed the empowerment of women and sisterhood in Islam. The story detailed how she had been invited by Prophet Soloman to submit to the worship of one God alone, Allah, instead of the Sun.
The four actresses transited smoothly from one story to the other, maintaining a committed conviction to each of their roles.
Adding to the intimacy of the entire experience was a dynamic Q&A session at the end of the play where the audience interacted with the actresses and even each other. Running themes through the conversation included the universality of the stories, the process behind production, story selection and Keelat’s future.
In response to a rather pointed question about Keelat’s intention in performing stories from Islam (Is it da’wah), they answered that at the heart of their work is a desire to share stories by bringing them to life on stage.
An audience member who identified herself as a devout Buddhist highlighted that the values inherent in the stories were not exclusive to Abrahamic religions. In fact, she detailed that she personally related to the concepts of calmness through meditation, sisterhood and non-judgment.
Another audience member highlighted that she hopes to see Keelat bring to life larger problems faced by women in Singapore through theatre to an even larger audience.
While I share the same hopes for Keelat’s expansion and success, I have to say that the intimacy of an all-ladies play at the playden was an experience that was in itself larger than life.[divider]
[box_light]About Keelat: Established in 2008 and based in Singapore, Keelat Theatre Ensemble aims to explore Islamic perspectives of common issues and common perspectives of Islamic issues; contemporarise traditional Islamic theatre practices and traditionalise contemporary Islamic theatre practices; bridge differences of ethnicity, spirituality, intellectual capacity and economic status; and enhance international and intercultural understanding; by staging theatre productions with professional efficiency and artistic integrity for the contemporary audience at large.
Audience: Approx 90 women[/box_light]
Farah is an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, studying Communications and New Media. She aspires to be a change-maker, ground-breaker, time-shifting, paradise-seeker.