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‘Favour’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Favour, Bush Theatre, 2022
Photo by Suzi CorkerAvita Jay (Aleena)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Ambitious but muddled drama about a woman struggling to reintegrate into her British-Pakistani community after time in jail

‘Welcome Home’, says the hand-painted banner in the cramped living room. But when Aleena returns from prison she doesn't get the cheery reception she might have hoped for. ‘Diary of a Hounslow Girl’ author Ambreen Razia’s play is an intermittently moving but slow-paced look at Aleena’s struggle to reintegrate into a close-knit British-Pakistani community that’s not so sure it wants her back.

Razia neatly sketches three generations of Ilford women. Aleena (Avita Jay) is a former alcoholic who's desperate to make a fresh start: she buzzes with energy and motivational slogans. But her frenetic talk of realigning her chakras worries her devout, distant Muslim mother Noor (Renu Brindle). And although her anxious teenage daughter Leila (Ashna Rabheru) is enthralled by her mum’s no-rules approach to parenting, she’s also kind of terrified by this cartwheeling, Whitney-singing whirlwind of chaos that's suddenly ripping through her strictly regimented childhood.  

Outside the thin walls of the family home, a whole community buzzes with gossip and judgement. Their representative is Fozia, played with sitcom-y broadness by Rina Fatania, who feels like she’s sauntered in from an entirely different play. She hypocritically scoffs chocolate fingers while complaining about her blood sugar levels, and pours out a hilarious stream of judgements onto every aspect of Noor’s household, from her daughter’s erratic behaviour right down to the family’s preferred brand of tea.

Still, funny as these scenes are, they also feel a bit like you’re trapped at a never-ending family get-together where nothing changes except the contents of the biscuit plate. Razia’s characters don't ever really evolve or surprise you, and the play’s plot appears far too late in the day, in an under-signposted splurge at its closing scene.

Co-directors Róisín McBrinn and Sophie Dillon Moniram add a huge amount of spark and life to ‘Favour’, choreographing playful mother-daughter tussles in the breaks between scenes. But it still feels inert, bar one terrifying scene where Aleena shows the steel underneath her hippy bravado. The themes here are huge – fraud, alcoholism, child abuse, OCD – but they're rendered in the muted colours of a suburban house's wallpaper, retreating safely into the background. 

Written by
Alice Saville


£12-£20. Runs 1hr 35min
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