Aisha by AJ, Hen and Chickens
AISHA starts off with a graphic monologue, outlining a domestic rape routine, and ends with the recollection of a (soon-to-be) murder. In between are scenes of casual misogyny, forced incarceration, under-age sexual and emotional abuse, miscarriages, and unremitting physical torture. There is almost no respite within the (almost) 2 hour running time. This is both the play’s strength, and a potential weakness.
‘Aisha’ (Laura Adebisi) is a 14-year-old girl, born and raised in modern-day Britain and sold, by her parents, to a 47-year-old sadist/would-be husband. This rendering of her story does not seek to appease the audience. There is no ornamentation, flowery dialogue, romantic subplot, or humour; in short, there is no easy way out. Yes, ‘light’ is glimpsed at various moments, but what we are mostly presented with is one long, dark tunnel. The writer seems to be saying: ‘If Aisha can’t escape, neither can you’.
A flashback scene - wherein Aisha’s childhood innocence and literary aspirations are snuffed out by her mother (Sabrina Richmond) – points to how wide-spread the practice of selling one’s own child might be, and how self-loathing a woman caught up in these traditions could become.
The introduction of ‘Mr White’ (Lloyd Morris) – the ‘best friend’ of Aisha’s husband/captor – briefly offers the possibility of escape. That is, until we realise that his disregard for her (and all women) is matched only by his disdain for his old school friend – whom he affectionately calls “Coconut”. At first, his casual racism seems at odds with his continued – and long-lasting – ‘friendship’. That is, until we realise that his ‘old friend’ – always good with figures – is tolerated because he’s a potential ‘cash cow’ (a clear allusion to a colonial legacy). Mister White ‘accepts’ that his old friend is Aisha’s ‘uncle’, because it suits him.
By not sugarcoating the reality of underage child brides – by presenting the topic in a clear, honest, and technically strong way – the writer/director, AJ, has done his job.
The possibility of a new baby represents a possible ‘way out’ for Aisha (at least emotionally); as does the introduction of the well-meaning ‘Doctor Valge’ (Alexander Lincoln), b(r)ought in to check on her pregnancy. Unfortunately, both exit routes are barred – one by tragedy, the other by money. After a perfunctory scan, the ‘good doctor’ simply accepts that Aisha’s ‘uncle’ will take her to the hospital - because it suits him.
By offering us clues - and showing us certain realities happening right under our noses – the writer seeks to remove our alibis. As he turns an unflinching gaze and a cold, unwavering finger to the poisons of Patriarchy (whatever its source), he challenges us to do the same.
Ultimately, it is money – that ‘invisible cloak of respectability’ – with which ‘Coconut’ clothes himself, allowing him free rein to continue his crime(s). Indeed, money is the currency with which he seeks to dominate his own hated ethnic roots: if his familial obligations ‘force him’ to take a Nigerian bride (instead of a preferred Caucasian one), then he will ‘buy’ one that he, too, can dominate. The writer acknowledges that – in all tales of ‘abuse by patriarchy’, money, power, and perceived position often make ‘innocent bystanders’ culpable.
It is Laura Adebisi (‘Aisha’) who deserves most of the plaudits. She delivers her monologues with an unwavering focus, and enacts the scenes of brutality with an uncompromising believability.
It is only with the arrival of the ‘Support worker’ (Olivia Valler-Feltham) - and her own personal confessions – that Aisha finds a little light filtering through. However, by this point, there is neither redemption for Aisha, nor catharsis for the viewer; only more tales of darkness – and…‘blackout’.
All of the supporting actors perform admirably. Ayo Oyelakin (‘Aisha’s husband’) deserves praise for his portrayal of quiet malevolence, coiled rage and crippling self-disgust; Sabrina Richmond (‘Aisha’s mother’), also, treads a delicate balance between helpless messenger, and steadfast oppressor.
But it is Laura Adebisi (‘Aisha’) who deserves most of the plaudits. She delivers her monologues with an unwavering focus, and enacts the scenes of brutality with an uncompromising believability. It is she who holds our sympathies and makes sure that our attention doesn’t stray too far from ‘the real’.
The lighting is mainly used to bookend scenes. Usually this device would get repetitive, but its simplicity and honesty work well here.
All of the supporting actors perform admirably. Ayo Oyelakin (‘Aisha’s husband’) deserves praise for his portrayal of quiet malevolence, coiled rage and crippling self-disgust
Similarly, the use of Nina Simone - as a both soundtrack and prop – add significant subtext to the story, and to the characterisation.
‘Every year 15 million girls are married as children… 28 million every minute, 1 every 2 seconds’.
This play makes for uncomfortable viewing; but maybe that’s the point. After all, the above statistic makes for uncomfortable reading. By not sugarcoating the reality of underage child brides – by presenting the topic in a clear, honest, and technically strong way – the writer/director, AJ, has done his job. If we choose not to engage, perhaps the ‘weakness’ lies with us.