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‘Twelve’ play – ‘Dishonored’ women given joyous voices

‘Twelve’ play – ‘Dishonored’ women given joyous voices

April 14 2015

New play delves deep to find powerful and inspiring voices of women murdered in honour crimes…

SO MUCH of the time, a tragic news story is something we only superficially respond to – a fleeting moment of sadness, regret, and a dim hope that it will not happen again.

In Britain, every year on average 12 people are murdered in what is termed ‘honour-based violence’, according to the Metropolitan Police.

More often than not these girls – and a few boys – are brutally disposed of, because they think and behave differently to how their family want them to and are brutally punished for doing so.

Now in a play called “Twelve” – mounted by Kali, a theatre company that specialises in British Asian women’s stories – the lives of 12 women are revisited. Using testimonies of survivors, witnesses and support workers, we hear these young girls’ and women’s voices as penned by 12 different writers.

Two stories came from personal experiences – one writer’s mother was murdered by her father and in another story, a father stood up to a traditional community backlash for his daughter to lead an independent life.

“It’s a piece of theatre that people can come to enjoy and it will make them think,” Kali’s artistic director and director of “Twelve” Janet Steel told “ It’s touching and moving and a beautiful piece of theatre.

“It’s not depressing – it’s joyous. I want people to see it and get angry and talk about it.”

Steel herself was inspired by the sad case of Banaz Mahmod, a Kurdish woman who was murdered in 2006 by her own family after she entered into a relationship with a man of whom they did not approve.

An Emmy-award winning documentary, “Banaz: A Love Story” (2012) examined the background to the murder and the case is widely acknowledged as the one that brought about significant changes to the way such ‘honour’ crimes are investigated by the authorities in Britain. Banaz had told police she was in danger but her pleas had fallen on largely deaf ears.

“After seeing the documentary, the Met Police said on average 12 women (a year) die in Britain as a result of honour-based violence and the number just stuck in my head,” explained Steel. “And I just thought I have got to do something about this.

“I just didn’t think enough was being done. It (honour-based violence) wasn’t being talked about and women’s lives seemed to have no worth.

“One of the monologues asks, ‘what is the life of a South Asian woman worth’? ”

Janet Steel, director of 'Twelve'

While she had the idea to develop something when the documentary came out, it really took shape from readings last year and has become longer and dance sequences have been added.

Sheema Kermani, a well-known social and women’s rights activist from Pakistan and the founder of Tehrik-e-Niswan performs dances between the twelve different stories.

“It’s very special to have her,” enthused Steel. “We’re fortunate she has agreed to be part of this. She is a dancer, choreographer and actor.”

The pieces are read by different actors and what Steel and the writers have been keen to exhibit is the spirit these women and young girls had.

It is a celebration more than a lament and a reminder that the human spirit can continue to inspire and motivate – even if a person’s life was cut short, violently and abruptly.

“We wanted to show the spirit of the 12; I was really interested in that.

“The majority of people who find themselves in that position are spirited and feisty and they want things done in a different way, they want to dress in a certain and do things their family or community doesn’t feel is right.”

Some call it a clash of cultures – where very traditional ideas about family, honour and a women’s place within Asian society come up against more westernised notions of independence and freedom. But it is often more complex and a battle that has its own personal dynamics, as well as the wider cultural ones.

And Steel says it’s important to see honour-based violence in the wider context too of domestic violence – which often does not have the same cultural connotations but can be equally destructive and murderous.

“More women die in this country at the hands of their husbands than through any other way.

“It’s shocking. Honour-based violence has to be talked about within that context and tackled as a whole.”

Twelve” goes on a short national tour and Steel hopes to take it to community centres and groups to encourage them to see the play in its entirety.

“We’re going to take it to people,” she said when asked about the challenge of showing it to people who are not interested or think it isn’t relevant to them.

“We’ll go and do little bits and talk to them and then take them to theatre to see the whole thing.”

The 12 Writers behind ‘Twelve’ are: Sonali Bhattacharyya, Sharmila Chauhan, Satinder Chohan, Azma Dar, Tanika Gupta, Bettina Gracias, Sayan Kent, Yasmeen Khan, Anu Kumar, Amber Lone, Nessah Muthy and Yasmin Whittaker-Khan

  • ‘Twelve’ TODAY & April 15 7.30pm, Watermans, 40 High Street Brentford Middlesex TW8 0DS Box Office 020 8232 1010
  • April 16 & 17 8pm Mac Birmingham, Cannon Hill Park Birmingham B12 9QH Box Office 0121 446 3232
  • April 19 7.30pm Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA Box Office 020 7613 7498

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture