Arab women's liberation - still more than a stone's throw away
'The Singing Stones' starts with a joke, told by puppets in a tribute to Masasit Mati – Spitting Image, Syria style – which mocks the Assad regime.
The production also takes in a “court of redress” in Egypt where female protesters from Tahrir Square are “encouraged” to air their grievances; Tunisia, “At last our world is changing”, where a self-immolating hawker sparked the Arab Spring,; Libya, with women peering down a culvert at the cornered Gadaafi; a semi-derelict building in Syria; a border where female soldiers “fight to remain – unbelievably in 2015 – free women” ; and a Georgian house in Camberwell in which participants in a small gathering discuss the idea of staging a presentation about women and the Arab Revolution.
It’s a big topic which the production doesn’t simply tackle: it assaults – with humour both bawdy and cutting, stories, puppets, brutal descriptions (one man in the audience on the night I attended sat with his head in his hands, apparently attempting to shut out the awfulness of the world), farce, and poetic flights of imagination.
Tone and pace veer wildly. Some parts are so moving I was left with an ache in my stomach, others made me laugh at loud. It runs for only about two hours, and occasionally flags, but overall it’s a magnificent, fantastical roar – against a world in which half the population is excluded, ignored, derided, mistreated.
No-one in writer/director Kay Adshead’s line of fire is safe, neither the dictators who dye their hair soot black (“The minute they do, they should be frogmarched off and lynched in the public square. That simple pre-emptive action would save several genocides”), nor the niqab-wearing British women starting a new life with fundamentalist fighters (“So you are prepared to trade in all the small daily hates for one great big one?... Quite possibly the biggest hate of all”).
Adshead was a co-founder of Mama Quilla theatre company in 1999 the aim of which was to offer a female perspective on the big issues of the day. This does - though sadly the prospects for significant change in the position of Arab women appear to remain in an imagined future.