WASWASA: Whispers in Prayer - Review

WASWASA: Whispers in Prayer - Review


Posted 2022-08-27 by dpmfollow

Thu 25 Aug 2022 - Sat 03 Sep 2022

Birmingham-based artist Mohammed Ali and Soul City Arts have brought together thoughts, experiences and reflection into this immersive and multimedia experience that explores Islamic prayer in Britain today.

The production, currently staged at Birmingham Hippodrome's Patrick Studio as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival, is a journey into that reflection physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Entering through the Thorp Street entrance of the theatre complex, audience members are asked to remove their shoes, in a recreation of entering a holy space. First, we enter a constructed tunnel of prayer, with contributions made in a series of community workshops facilitated by Soul City Arts at its new base in Sparkbrook. Written on prayer mats at body height and above our heads, we read people's prayers – some intensely personal, some focussing on Birmingham or local neighbourhoods and others raising national and international concerns.

The heart of the installation is a space in which the audience is invited to sit on artificial grass, watching a screen and surrounding a well-like construction. Within this space, a production lasting roughly an hour blends film with live performance. Two actors, Hamza Ali and Mustafa Chaudhry play the role on different dates with the latter in the part for the performance I watched.

WASWASA is Arabic for the whisper which distracts a Muslim when he or she attempts to pray. Traditionally demonic, in this production, we see how modern life presents its own WASWASA. As Chaudhry's character attempts to pray he is unable to concentrate – noises, discomfort and other distractions all prevent him from focussing. And, as he tells us, in today's world filled with the need to work, the constant hum of media and social media, and the busy life of the city – it is not difficult to find distractions.

In many ways WASWASA is a meditative piece in which we are taken through little vignettes of experiences – attempts to pray when working as a long-distance lorry driver, the curiosity of others, the need to find time and space – which all remind us of the challenges of prayer. Twice during these recollections, the artist tells stories in which non-believers have asked 'what is prayer for?' and much of the performance attempts to answer this question.

Mohammed also delves into some deeply personal reflections about death and what he terms the Muslim difficulty in making mortality part of our lives. Having experienced the death of his mother from Covid, he shares some of that experience through the voice of his actor.

The film closes with images of Muslim prayer from across the globe, bringing together people praying in locations as diverse as Birmingham, Cape Town, New York and Kuala Lumpur, reminding us that prayer is not only a communion with God but also with each other. And, while the piece is specific to Muslim prayer, much of its reflection could apply to anyone from any faith, or no faith, attempting to find space for prayer, meditation or even stillness in today's busy world.

Chaudhry gives a controlled and sensitive performance, we are aware of the conflicts his character faces but we also see the beauty of some of the ritual involved in prayer and share the moments of calm with him.

Produced by Soul City Arts and in collaboration with the Hippodrome, the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick and Guildhall Live Events, WASWASA is staged at the Hippodrome until September 3. There are two levels to this production. I attended the full live performance but it is also possible to take part in a walk- through experience at a lower ticket price. For more information and tickets see www.birminghamhippodrome.com and www.soulcityarts.com

#theatre -reviews
!date 25/08/2022 -- 03/09/2022
70737 - 2023-01-26 01:49:00


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