Weaving together narration, poetry, dance, and song to tell a life story shaped by migration, My Mother Runs in Zig-Zags certainly promises to be one of the most ambitious projects the Oxford theatre scene has seen in recent years. Yet, writer-directors Zad El Bacha’s and Simran Uppal’s smart writing and theatrical intuition and an immensely talented cast of BAME actors, poets, dancers, and singers, which worked alongside them to devise this play, fully redeem this promise.
Together they take the audience on a journey spanning generations and continents: they layer music, dance and poetry to carefully reveal the memories and anecdotes contained in migration experiences caused by the Lebanese civil war (which ran from 1975 to 1990). They uncover the sounds of the sea, with the sand and pebbles of Beirut’s beaches still lingering in stories shared around kitchen tables. The play masterfully stratifies the serious, funny, and absurd aspects of a life lived in war zones and a state of migration, animating it through new exciting writing, music, and dance.
Prose passages are performed by the brilliant Iqra Mohamed and Shekinah Opara. Mohamed’s unaffected and intuitive performance highlights the sublime writing, which integrates itself seamlessly into the vibrant tradition of oral history. Conversely, Opara confidently gauges the depths of silence, which can trap, but ultimately prove deeply empowering. The pair also provides some hilarious and witty exchanges, which punctuate the play’s seriousness. Exploring different ways of engaging with and disengaging from the past, the prose guides the audience through the confusion and disorientation of a childhood in war-torn Lebanon, where “different groups kept splitting and uniting”.
A chorus consisting of dancers, singers, and spoken word poets embodies this principle of randomly changing parameters of identity, which shapes the lived experience of war and migration: in split seconds a playful child transforms into an armed soldier; a singer falls silent; a dancer stands still, blending back into the anonymous chorus. The voices of singers Su Ying, Rore Disun-Odebode, Leanne Yau, and Elhana Sugiaman interweave, constantly shifting between subtle disharmony and unison, which contributes to a slowlyenveloping atmosphere. Layered on top are contemporary dance sequences, choreographed and performed by Jesryna Patel, Esther Agbolade, and Kalyna El Kettas. The entrancing rhythm developed by the dancers’ movements – simultaneously strong and vulnerable – multiplies the plays emotional impact. Michael Akolade Ayodeji-Johnson’s vivid poetry completes the chorus by providing it with its own voice, distinct from Mohamed and Opara’s prose.
The trust the production team and cast have put into each other and the creativity and skill such an engaging play demands is palpable. This translates onto the stage: My Mother Runs in Zig-Zags is an astonishingly mature production, which embraces the uncomfortable silences caused by the experience of war and migration as much as the beautifully enchanting dance sequences and haunting a cappella melodies. El Bacha and Uppal have created a multi-layered masterpiece and anyone would be well advised to not miss this extraordinary play. It will make you laugh, cry, and stop you in your tracks. And when the curtain falls, you will want to see it all over again.
My Mother Runs in Zig-Zags plays at The North Wall Arts Centre from Thursday May 5th to Saturday June 1st (5th Week). Tickets are available here.