“Unspoken” – a play about domestic violence created by the support group members of Southall Black Sisters in collaboration with Giants Theatre Company was performed for the first time in public to great acclaim. They sang their stories, danced their tragedies and spoke out about their fight for survival and freedom from violence and abuse. This production is even more remarkable as all the women, apart from one member had not performed in public.
Meena Patel, who also appeared in the play explained that the women “have overcome so many obstacles and personal issues to perform in public and that too on the streets of Southall. I am so proud of what this group of women achieved today – especially as these performances marks 16 days of activism against gender based violence – with this play and other activities we are asking the community to join us to end violence against women and girls”.
The play was created over a number of weeks with Giants, a theatre company specialising on working with community organisations, Unspoken being their first foray into street theatre. Giants worked with the women from the SBS support group and drew out their personal stories, weaving a complex and effective production structured around the idea of ‘A Thousand and One Nights.’ Spectators stopped and watched as performers asked “do you know such a woman who is not allowed to be free in her home and who is beaten because she won’t obey? We think you do!”
Jennie Buckman from Giants Theatre said that when “I first met Meena and she suggested we work together on a piece of street theatre, I knew that this was exactly what Giants Theatre wanted: and yet I was scared that we would let you down, or maybe that some of you would pull out before the show …. BUT I cannot express in words how wonderful the whole experience has been for Tania and me. I was frequently amazed at how relentless, and ‘inventive’!! the cruelty was that you suffered at the hands of people who are meant to love you – family and extended family. You are all a force to be reckoned with and I want to keep in touch to hear about your triumphs and successes in the future”.
Shakila Taranum Maan, a member of Southall Black Sisters and a film maker based in Southall filmed the event and said that “at times it was difficult to film the performance as I found the play utterly moving, I was continuously clearly lumps from my throat throughout performance. The work that the Support Group at SBS has achieved with this project has to be applauded and celebrated. The stories told in the play were the stories of the women who performed and I am amazed at their bravery and courage to come out in public in this way and deliver with such conviction and power. This performance meant a lot to them. It was an amazing experience for the women and audience alike. I think that SBS are the only organisation who are doing such work in Southall. Their tireless and relentless commitment to domestic violence continues to be sustained by a dedicated staff. And we have to appreciate the work that they do in a climate of such austerity and daily challenges of staff shortages and funding cuts.”
The performance struck a chord with a number of young women who came up and spoke to SBS staff stating that they too were experiencing such problems and needed help. Others said that it was an important production that needed to go into other areas to reach out to women who are not able to come out of their communities; they said that this would be a good way to reach them.
Unspoken was supported by Southall Community Alliance and performed outside of their offices on Southall High Street as part of the Southall Big Plan White Ribbon Day to end violence against women. Audience members included Southall residents of all ages, prominent figures such as Virendra Shamra MP and senior police officers signing pledges to end domestic violence. With three performances spread out throughout the day, the play aimed to raise awareness in the community and to break the culture of silence and denial, which prevents women from speaking out.
Janpal Basran from Southall Community Alliance said “we’ve received excellent feedback and congratulations to everyone for their contributions and efforts; many groups and individuals participated and worked really hard behind the scenes to make the day as positive as it was. The stalls, the training and the superb street performance really caught the eye and imagination and are a sign of how successful partnership working can be”.
Special Thanks to:
Southall Black Sisters Support Group Members
Bob Uppal for the music
Giants Theatre Company
Arts Council London
Southall Community Alliance