Sunday 27 January 2019

Inside Voices: exploring feminism, faith, and freedom

Photo from the Inside Voices facebook page


Described as ‘witty, enchanting and poignant’ (Global Voices Theatre) and “funny, energising... a charismatic ensemble piece” (Nick Hern Books), Inside Voices blends dark comedy and magical realism to shine a spotlight on Southeast Asian Muslim women, exploring feminism, faith and freedom.

The production is presented by an all-female, all-Asian cast and creative team. The play will be published by Nick Hern Books as one of seven best new plays at VAULT Festival and is a selected festival highlight of renowned theatre critic Lyn Gardner.

Inside Voices also interrogates larger conversations about intersectionality, Islamophobia and the #MeToo movement.

WHEN: 23 Jan - 27 Jan (Wed-Sun: 6.20pm, Sat 3.20pm)
WHERE: Pit - The Vaults, Leake Street
TICKETS : £12.00

For more info, visit

It's funny when you think that you've moved into white spaces but the things you make an effort to go to are things from your side of the world. Eh. Homesick la kan.

(Also had a nice banana leaf rice with kari ikan before the show. lol.)

Inside Voices was held in the Pit at the Vault, which was all very underground indie cool, except the part that it was a bit hard to find. You have to go through this graffiti-ed tunnel passing by various artists spraypainting the wall.

The Pit itself is a small space, probably a little smaller than PenangPAC's Stage 2, and it was set up as a theatre in the round. The first thing I noticed when I entered was a tray full of food, because food. (They were props for the show.)

Official descriptions of the play uses the term "Southeast Asian Muslim women", but I don't know if that's really the best term to use because it's really very Nusantara, in the older (non-Malaysian/Indonesian nationalistic) sense of the word. Maybe I'm just being pedantic about it; SEA includes a much wider range of identities who may or may not be Muslim, but who don't fit into the conversation here. The dialogue is unapologetic about its use of Malay phrases, exclamations and sentence structures. It's something I would expect in a show back home, not one in London. But well, the playwright is Singaporean as are most of the cast and crew.

Inside Voices starts off with a very normal domestic scene: three women getting ready for a meal. From the beginning, their identities are established: the motherly, dependable one; the wild, sexual one; and the newly married, childish one. Actually, I struggled with that last one--her identities seem to run all over the place, as does her accent. Kak Fatimah (played by Nur Khairiyah Ramli) is the most secure in her identity--she is the most comfortable in her skin and her language. Lily (played by Siti Zuraida) fits her flamboyant, wild-child role quite well--her language is sharper, more upper class, as befits one who's educated, urban and sophisticated. Nisa (played by Suhaili Safari) seems to switch between a local Malay-English patois to something more articulated--I don't know if these shifts are intended since her character is insecure and naive, the one who is asking the questions that need to be answered. It just seemed a little confusing somehow.

Using the idea of a safe space, the narrative then delves into their backstories, the things they struggle with as Muslim women--domestic abuse, societal expectations to marry and have children, miscarriage, the politics of wearing the hijab. It veers into the mystical and the superstitious as well, with this hilarious (but also slightly gross) segment on Nasi Kangkang, that plays on Shakespeare's three witches. I can't seem to find an English translation for this, but it's basically black magic, where a woman mixes bodily fluids in food (rice) to gain control over her husband.

It's the location (for the want of a better word--situationality? Story world?) of this play that is its weakest point. Is it the real, physical world? Is it happening in their minds? Is it a dream world? Is this a mental hospital? The scene shifts clearly mark changes in the mental and emotional landscapes and the themes covered, but there seems to be a lack of rootedness as to where it is which is never fully explained. For the first half of the play, I assumed it was a real-world situation, where three friends have taken time off together, like an all-girls holiday. But later on, they talk about not remembering these conversations, about hiding from yourself, as if they were psychotic episodes, and then they plan to leave together, if each of the others are ready.

I highly enjoyed the play (it's more drama than dark comedy, I feel, but I'm not that good in segmenting stuff). There is enough raw emotion and truthfulness to tug at your heartstrings (I had to tell myself not to cry).


Lazy Native creates urgent, subversive theatre that champions Southeast Asian narratives. VAULT Festival is London's biggest arts festival, with over 400 shows from over 2000 artists.

Performers: Siti Zuraida, Suhaili Safari and Nur Khairiyah Ramli
Playwright: Nabilah Said
Director: Zhui Ning Chang
Producer: Deanna Dzulkifli
Asst Producer: Nur Khairiyah Bte Ramli
Production Stage Manager: Muslihah Mujtaba
Sound Designer: Nicola Chang
Lighting Designer: Raycher Phua

1 comment:

  1. Hi Anna, I stumbled upon your review and it's wonderful to hear what you thought of the show. You're absolutely right that it's more about Nusantara women, that was something I struggled with as we were marketing the show. Maybe that can be remedied if we get to restage it at some point. I'm glad you managed to catch it :)