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Liberation Squares - Review

“Liberation Squares”, from writer Sonali Bhattacharyya, tells the moving tale of three Muslim teenagers who find themselves discriminated against because of their race and religion. Despite this being a difficult and serious topic, this is not a lecture – this is an out-and-out comedy, albeit with strong political undertones.

The play is loud and in-your-face, beginning in the bedroom of Muslim teenager Ruqaya (Vaneeka Dadhria), who is recording her own beatboxing track. Dadhria shows off her impressive beatboxing skills, using a loop pad to create different soundscapes and distort her voice to suit the dramatic beats of the play. Ruqaya is joined by her friend Sabi (Asha Hassan), who could not be more different – she is obsessed with comic books, in particular black, female superheroes such as Moon Girl and Ms Marvel. Despite these differences, it is clear that the girls have been friends for a long time, and Dadhria and Hassan effortlessly make this apparent, bringing lots of laughter and joy to the opening scenes.

Liberation Squares
Sabi (Asha Hassan), Ruqaya (Vaneeka Dadhria) and Xara (Halema Hussain). Photo credit Ali Wright.

Their lives change when they meet Xara (Halema Hussain), a new girl to the area who is a major TikTok star, and who Ruqaya immediately idolises. Hussain’s confident personality, along with her brash Bristol accent, contrasts well with Dadhria and Hassan’s quieter characters, and it is clear to see why she would throw a spanner in the works of their friendship. So far, the play appears to be your standard teenage drama – there are arguments about college courses, mean girls on the bus, teachers confiscating phones… but then everything gets a little more serious, and the play truly comes to life.

After a protest outside the local library, the three girls find themselves targeted by the PREVENT campaign, a government counter-terrorism intervention that is meant to prevent young people from being drawn into extremism. The attack is clearly unfounded, and the play addresses this in no uncertain terms – the girls are targeted because they are Muslim, because they are interested in their family history and because they are passionate.

Liberation Squares
Hussain shows off her dance moves whilst Dadhria beatboxes. Photo credit Ali Wright.

Local library worker Nadia is thrown into the mix as a potential suspect in the mystery of who reported the girls to PREVENT. Nadia is played by both Hassan and Hussain, who adopt the same Northern accent and even the same stance, in a clever piece of characterisation. Throughout the play, everything is choreographed perfectly. Director Milli Bhatia and movement director Iskandar إسكندر R. Sharazuddin inject comedy and drama into every scene. A particularly memorable moment sees an argument between Nadia and Xara result in them throwing biscuits at each other, which is done in a very interesting and stylised way.

The set is simple; three whiteboards are used to set scenes thanks to words and drawings courtesy of the three actors, and an overhead projector brings to life the library (or “Bibliotek”, with quotation marks and a k).

Liberation Squares
Asha Hassan as Sabi. Photo credit Ali Wright.

As the play nears its conclusion, the political message becomes more overt, but this is not unwarranted. The anger and desperation from the three teenagers is very clear, and it is obvious that this message is something that goes beyond the story and the characters, and is being spoken by the actors themselves. I have never heard anyone read out Government legislation in the powerful way that Hussain does in the final scene. Enough to send chills down your spine.

This is a fantastic and important piece of theatre, and something that is sure to get people talking. The message is clear, the characters are strong, and whilst it will make you laugh out loud throughout, it will also leave you with lots to think about afterwards.

“Liberation Squares” plays at the Nottingham Playhouse until 27th April, before embarking on a UK tour throughout May and June.

Liberation Squares
The three girls protest outside “Bibliotek”. Photo credit Ali Wright.

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