ISHQ, 3 Stars

ISHQ
Sadler’s Wells
7th to 9th Sept 2017

“This September will see the UK premiere of brand new Sufi musical, ISHQ, which will be performed in English at Sadler’s Wells to mark 70 years of Pakistan’s independence.
Originally penned more than 600 years ago by the immortal Sufi Saint Waris Shah, ISHQ will feature specially commissioned music and choreography from across Pakistan and the UK. This is the love story that shook a patriarchal society, putting the empowerment of women centre stage.
ISHQ tells the tale of two lovers and their feuding families and holds the same place in Punjabi literature as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This exciting musical spectacle will feature a combination of classical and modern dance with a unique blend of poetry and fusion music.
Set against the spectacular backdrop of the Punjab, ISHQ is a collaboration between Pakistani and British artists which will celebrate unity, diversity and Pakistani culture within the UK.”

Review by Mark Banfield, 3 Stars

Clearly there has not been an issue around funding of the production with beautifully designed backdrops projected onto screens that provide mesmerising vignettes of a past and ancient world, palatial palaces and temples are surrounded by pastures that sway and live stock graze and bathed in the celestial light of the night sky. Of particular charm is the lovers scenes where green silk swaths are stretched across the stage creating an idlic setting for our lovers.

Technically the lighting design is superb (Declan Randall) but whether on the night they were experiencing difficulties, as this was effectively the first preview, or the actors missed their spots we had more than a few occasions of the protagonists in darkness.

Which brings us to the sound. I and my fellow audience members had several issues with this. More often than not we could not hear the actors singing and when we did the harmonies were just not very good.

For some reason they opted  to produce the play in rhyming couplets, which whilst can occasionally be deployed effectively, as in pantomime villains, if over used renders the effect tiresome and comical. I also take issue with the lyrics of the songs as clearly someone has been influenced by a Disney musical or two and had Jafar walked in from Aladdin one would not have been surprised.

The costumes rather predictably were brilliant with vibrant shalwar kameez , fluttering veils and embellished footwear. The costumes are indeed bright and colourful, with plenty that sparkles, however I cannot help but think that more refined and and judicious use of sequins and tinsel may have produced a less garish more serene authentic effect. Similarly the props employed were equally beautifully crafted with bowls and ceremonial cups and ornate chairs and again a rather garish ceremonial canopy which whilst visual  striking were  historically inaccurate. The choreography  in my opinion is the production’s strongest element, with scenes well choreographed and executed with line and symmetry on the whole maintained with only a few waivers.

The production’s message pertaining to womens’ rights, and the issue of honour killings is more relevant than ever and exceeds the play’s historical context provoking thoughts of how Pakistan as a society has progressed. By reforming to become a more just and fair society this demonstrates the transformative role art can play in shifting perspectives and patterns of thought. What I really enjoy about Sadlers diversity and inclusion programming is the audience engagement. I took the time to go round and mingle and eavesdrop and have a few conversations. On this night in particular I met a Pakistani couple on a third date, a group of girls on a night out, and a plethora of mums and dads from the Pakistani community. It’s encouraging to see those who would not normally attend theatre engaging with this experience.  They have definitely marketed well, with the audience clearly enjoying the evening with plenty of active audience participation.

(Photo Credit Lidia Crisafulli)




Producer Huma Beg
Director Farooq Beg
Playwright Mushfiq Murshed
Lyricists Farooq Beg, Owen Smith and Ian Brandon
Composer (UK) Ian Brandon
Composer (Pakistan) Emu (Fuzon)
Choreographer and Dramaturg Owen Smith
Choreographer (Pakistan) Suhaee Abro
Associate Producer Tara Finney
Set Designer, Projections and Lighting Declan Randall
Orchestrator Lawrence Michalowski
Choir Manager Gemma Eves
Music Advisor and Flutist Kansia Pritchard

Facebook @ishqthemusical
Twitter @ishqthemusical

70th Anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence
In 1947 Pakistan was carved out of undivided India under British rule. The country has since
emerged as a dynamic young nation and this year celebrates 70 years of independence and
Pakistan-UK relations. To commemorate this, ISHQ will celebrate the rich and diverse
heritage and culture of Pakistan.

SERENDIP Productions Ltd.
SERENDIP, Pakistan’s leading production and communications company, and pioneers of
development communications, was established in 1997. They are veterans at using drama
for behaviour change and their award winning producers have tackled challenging and
diverse issues facing Asian populations both in the UK and Pakistan with dramas, both on
film and live theatre.
SERENDIP have explored issues including disability, gender, consanguineous marriages,
sexual abuse, and racial harassment. They have won numerous awards, and became the
producers of the first ever foreign language film to win the coveted Grand Prix at the IVCA
awards in London for one of the earliest films to tackle HIV and Aids.
SERENDIP theatre productions are known for their innovation and bold approach. Recent
productions include the widely acclaimed ‘Sound n Light live drama extravaganzas’ at World
Heritage sites. These shows were internationally recognised and have provided a source of
sustainable income for poorer artists and aided the preservation of these sites.

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