Women and War is a month long festival examining the effect of warfare on women worldwide. Bringing together an extraordinary span of international work, and performers from all continents, the festival will showcase cutting-edge drama, comedy, dance, documentary film, photography, panel discussions and guest speakers drawn from the United Kingdom, United States, Spain, Iran, and Uzbekistan. Across the centuries, from the Crimean War, to WWII, through to the current conflict in Syria, Women in War tells the profoundly personal and yet universal stories of the role of women in war and the impact upon them during and after conflict, whether subjugated or subversive, victim or healer, protector or fighter.
If only one line will stay with me from this play, it will be this: “Remember: you are the most amazing thing in this world. You are Woman.” Tulganay (Guljiahon Baiz) has lost everything: a husband and three sons to the war and a daughter-in-law to childbirth, left alone with her newborn grandson. She cries to the ‘Earth’ in all of its religious senses – Earth the father, Earth the husband, Earth the son – and he responds with love and encouragement. This unique show plays with classic folklore from all over the Middle East, combined with music and dance to evoke a collective sense of loss with its audience. Just as Earth represents the patriarchal Father, she is a symbol of every mother, sister, daughter or wife who has experienced wartime loss throughout history. While this metaphor did require my own suspension of disbelief in terms of both faith and gender roles, having set it in the 1940s did make this a little easier.
The dialogue between Tulganay and Earth was somewhat difficult to follow. This was not because Tulganay spoke only in Uzbeki – on the contrary, although the subtitles provided were distracting at times, this process of translation drew a lot of attention to the fact that in the West we tend to be very isolated in terms of the stories we hear. More importantly, it forced the audience to wonder just how many war stories go untold. However, the fact that Earth spoke only in English was very jarring, and seemingly pointless, as we could just as easily have read the translation of his lines as well as hers. This contrast also only served to put more distance between the two characters who should have had a very significant on-stage dynamic and a profound chemistry. The one moment of genuine, honest connection between the two of them during the show was Earth reading the suicide note of Tulganay’s son as she hung his belongings on a fence. It was a moment of truth between them and between every mother who has lost a child to suicide – that, in itself, is a different kind of battle.
The planet’s only universal languages appear in the form of dancer Dilafruz Kodirova and oud-player (oudist?) Yaz Fentazi. Both, along with Tulganay’s stunning operatic vocalisation of traditional Uzbeki songs, gave the entire aesthetic a great deal of heart and conjured a strong connection between performers and audience. However, this magic became fragmented slightly by the lack of enthusiasm and, at times, boredom, exhibited by Fentazi in between his oud-playing, and by the overuse of Kodirova at times when her dancing only served to interrupt Tulganay’s most tender moments.
On the whole, I think it imperative that stories like this are shared across the globe, and especially to those countries, like our own, where we wouldn’t think of them otherwise. Since much of our own understanding of war is experienced through the media (overwhelmingly biased by the white males who dominate it), it is both refreshing and important to see such a specific sort of story being told and applied to our own lives. Tulganay’s story is not unique. For every person that dies in war there are women who mourn them – mothers, sisters, daughters, lovers, wives – and Tulganay is all of them. Munojat holds up a mirror to experiences of war, and in a sense builds a bridge between the world as we know it, and the world we haven’t even begun to consider.
Directed by Yuldosh Juraboev
Tickets Available: www.womenandwar.co.uk/#!munojat/ym1o9
Cover photo and opening quotefrom the Women and War website
[Thank you to http://www.theatrebloggers.co.uk for this opportunity!]