The Crows Plucked Your Sinews

Yusra Warsama gave a versatile and captivating performance in Hassan Mahamdalie’s poetic exploration of Somali culture today and in 1913.

The Crows Plucked Your Sinews follows the life of Suban, a young Somali living in contemporary Britain looking after her grandma with dementia. Her grandma acts as a vessel to tell the story of a female fighter on horseback whose photograph she owns. This fighter is Suban’s great grandmother who was in Mohammed Abdulle Hassan’s army, who led a guerrilla war to oust British colonisers in 1913.

 

The highlight of the piece was Warsama’s performance. Switching fluidly between the bent, haggard Ayeeyo (grandmother); her swaggering, drug dealing brother and her strong, guerrilla great grandmother, Warsama trod the stage with control and intent. When the piece began, she stood before the audience in black abaya and white head scarf and asked, ‘Do they see me in Black and white or in colour?’ before revealing combat trousers and trainers and producing a cigarette. Here Mahamdallie tackled head-on attitudes towards British Muslims, and later on described an incident where police interrogate her brother, as they believe he has terrorist connections. The script was powerful and relevant, representing the bilingual, multicultural households that many people living in Britain today experience. The integration of the Somali alongside the English also gave the script a wonderful poeticism as Mahamdallie vividly painted a dynamic Somali home.

 

Despite the success of the script to conjure imagery, there was a lack of deep emotional connection. Suban mainly channeled frustration and anger, at times directed at America, or the police, or her brother; and this felt like it was never fully explained. The familial connections were also fragile. Characters swam briefly in and out of focus – characterised by a posture or a gesture and then were gone again. Ayeeyo was the only reoccurring character, and whilst Suban obviously cared deeply for her, the bond between the two characters felt superficial. The grandma’s dementia meant the majority of their communication was transported into other another world where Suban was not present. This felt like a dramatic device to tell the historical story rather than a true relationship between the two.

 

The general stone washed aesthetic of the piece was beautiful. Whilst the majority was Warsama spotlighted on a dark stage with an oud player stage right, video clips and artwork were intermittently projected on to the back wall. Some of these images were incredibly effective, others beautiful, whilst some slightly distracting from the performance onstage - particularly when words were projected alongside speech. At times the atmospheric lighting on stage was too dim – not fully highlighting Warsama’s performance. The music of the oud was atmospheric. However, the piece closed with a rendition of ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ which felt slightly jarring. As the script had been about the discovery of authentic Somali culture for a woman disconnected from her heritage, the choice of a song with strong connections to the black civil rights movement in America felt like an unusual, if not slightly inappropriate artistic choice.

 

It is ultimately a coming of age story following Suban from a place where she is disconnected from both her family and her history, to an understanding and appreciation of her Somali heritage. An important story to tell, The Crows Plucked Your Sinews is a refreshing insight into a culture absent from the teachings of British history. I hope this piece empowers young East African Muslims in Britain to discover their heritage and embrace it if, like Suban, they have felt previously disconnected from it.

 

 

© Katie Jackson 2016 

 

The Crows Plucked Your Sinews runs at The Birmingham Rep until 11th February.

http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/event/the-crows-plucked-your-sinews/ 

Author's review: 
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