by Samanwita Sen
When walking away after watching a performance of My Mother Runs in Zig-Zags, perhaps the most lasting impression one is left with is how seamlessly and intricately the play has been put together. It’s no secret that, when watching the play, every note that is struck, every movement that is executed, and every line that is uttered is the product of a cast and crew that has meticulously revised, nurtured and honed a work of art so finely cut and smoothed out it shines and unravels marvellously on stage. Even more impressive is that, given the complexity and ambition of the performance, it is executed with the utmost fluidity.
At the heart of the play is an underlying yet potently permeating inquiry into how individuals cope with the burden of intergenerational trauma, of how the past continues to haunt and pervade our experiences of the present. Iqra Mohamed flawlessly captures the turmoil of a character raised by a mother living in the harrowing shadow of the Lebanon War: the variation in her tone and gestures as she reveals the grim realities underpinning her family history never fail to strike the audience with the emotional gravity they so delicately carry. Shekinah Opara makes for a wonderful complement to Iqra’s performance; not only does she own her role with her immaculate comedic timing, she deftly balances her character’s witty sarcasm with the haunting silences embodying her sympathy and compassion, capturing the hallmark of a multidimensional character.
It is in dealing with such psychological questions that My Mother Runs in Zig Zags shines; epitomizing the endless creativity of theatre in the casts’ highly evocative manifestation of the metaphysical. What renders the cast’s execution so powerful is the depth and nuance with which they treat each memory. With each recollection comes an immersive performance by the accompanying chorus and dancers; every monologue is interposed with layers of spoken word poetry, physical choreography and wide-ranging, mellifluous vocals. Hence, what erupts on stage is a colourful myriad of multifaceted performances that reconstruct the atmosphere of every memory. The chorus, comprised of singers Leanne Yau, Su Ying, Rore Disun-Odebode and Elhana Sugaian, proves to be especially soul-stirring, the lapses between the sudden disjuncts and anticipated harmony in the unison of voices powerfully resonate with the competing trauma and nostalgia that characterise one’s recollection of an innocent past ridden by war. The dance performances by Jesryna Patel, Esther Agbolade and Kalyna El Kettas are especially dynamic, imbuing the monologues with a dynamism that artfully reflects the disturbing realities of past trauma. This is accompanied by the beautiful spoken word poetry of Michael Akolade Ayodeji-Johnson, serving to stay true and honest to the oral tradition and cultural authenticity the play promises to capture.
Indeed, the play is differentiated by its immensely creative use of space and props; most of the vocals are recreated through acapella renditions by the immensely talented chorus, and the destruction of war is evoked by the shattering of props on stage – needless to say, it is an incredibly resourceful and pragmatic production. Despite its brevity, the one-hour duration does not detract from Mohamed’s harrowing revelation that every innocent memory is scarred by death and torture. It is towards the end that the audience realises the dark truth behind the play’s rather baffling title – the game of ‘zig zags’ was a game children played in Beirut, where they would run in the streets to dodge the bullets of soldiers stationed on the roofs.
It is without a doubt that the play represents an achievement for Oxford productions; with its entirely BAME cast and its unabashed portrayal of the horrors of war with such skill and artistry, it is definitely a performance the writers and directors Zad El Bacha and Simran Uppal should take pride in. And it is certainly a play everyone should go watch, whether for the emotional gravity it elicits within the audience or in order to relish in the heart-breaking performances the actors so effortlessly achieve. My Mother Runs in Zig Zags is a play that asserts the maturity and immensity of Oxford drama.
My Mother Runs in Zig-Zags runs till Saturday 1 June at The North Wall Arts Centre (which can be reached in by taking a 2/2A/2B bus towards Kidlington to Summertown Shops), with performances at 7.30pm every day and 2.30pm on Saturday.