Pros: Gorgeous physical theatre and dance choreography performed by a strong ensemble, and supported by moments of delightful music.
Cons: An unpolished production with a very jarring method of progressing the story.
ISHQ is based on a tumultuous Punjabi folk tale: the love story of Heer and Ranjha. The two lovers try to clear the path to their destiny but get caught in a complex web of familial and cultural values that render them potential objects of dishonour. The story, built around two inquisitive characters who question why their love is deemed impure, is a thoughtful exploration of the politics of spirituality and culture. They see conflict in much of the world around them, which is turn does not fit with their dedication to, and perception of, Islam.
The tale is a solid and intriguing one; unfortunately, the unpolished production doesn’t quite accomplish what it sets out to do. The narrative is staccato, the scenes short, and not always necessary.
The lovers, played by Ahsan Khan and Rasheeda Ali, are well drawn and performed with a level of thoughtfulness which elevates the production. There are strong cast members, and a wonderful ensemble of younger actors, but the pacing of the show doesn’t allow for clarity in the sub-plots, or motives of the supporting cast. For example, the show is punctuated with monologues and songs by Heer’s uncle. You’re told that he is in love with his niece, Heer, which is a crucial element of the story, but the audience is informed quite nonchalantly. The character is bluntly drawn as a villain, and although this backstory drives the narrative forward, the character is a figure of amusement. Perhaps this is his purpose, to provide some relief from the tragic story unfolding. However, to strengthen this production, it would have been beneficial to develop this character and build on his motives to move the narrative more realistically .
The strengths of the show are the dance pieces. They are accompanied by wonderful music, flautist Kansia Pritchard performing live beautifully. The dances are exceptionally choreographed by Suhaee Abro, and one sequence depicting a fight between some of the young men lifted the whole of the first act in its resonating splendour. The movement sequences were polished; they greatly represented the cultural richness that drives the show.
Overall, the structural issues with ISHQ make it difficult for the folk tale to play out its potential. The story is inherently driven by a thoughtful exploration of spirituality and its relationship to social culture. Moments of the production, such as the dance pieces and some visually gorgeous performance theatre, do this successfully. Overall, if the show is to extend its short run elsewhere, the plot needs weaving together more seamlessly to really do the potential of the folk story justice.
Author: Mushiq Murshed
Director: Farooq Beg
Produced by: Huma Beg and Serendip Theatre
Booking until: This performance has finished its run.
Booking Website: www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/
Box Office: 020 7863 8000