The big feels and frictions of brown sisterhood

26 October 2019

Review: Third Culture Kids, SHARBAT ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 24 October 2019 ·
Review by Patrick Gunasekera ·

In their first major production since 2015’s Once We Were Kings, local theatre ensemble Third Culture Kids have returned with SHARBAT.  A new work from emerging playwright Doreshawar Khan, SHARBAT is an all-too-true story of three dynamic sisters up against the world and each other during a particularly festive time of the year, as Eid and Christmas happen to fall on the same day. Under the direction of another emerging talent, Michelle Aitken (with set consultant Kelly Fregon), the Blue Room Theatre’s Kaos Room rehearsal space is transformed into a bright and cosy studio apartment; furnished with all the odd little things that characterise first-time home leavers’ lifestyles, from boxes of hoarded trinkets stuffed into one corner, to chicken gristle and stale Fruit Loops from the box for breakfast.

The story takes place in the residence of young Roo Gül (Sabrina Hafid), who has just moved out of her dad’s house and is settling in with the help of her sibling Batty (Mani Mae Gomes), when there is an unexpected arrival from their estranged older sister, Shazia. Vibrantly brought to life with a debut performance from writer  Doreshawar Khan, Shaz is introduced to us as the “success” sister: a married Instagram star on a fluids-only detox cleanse who wears hijab and offers salah every day. With her irrational fear of strangers and well-intentioned tendency to offer help and jump to conclusions too soon, there is an immediate and obvious disparity between Shazia and her sisters, queer punk Batty and onesie-clad Roo, who both take a more cool and casual approach to living out of home, mental health and Islam.

But everything is not as it seems: as the play progress and we learn of painful family secrets and private battles, the Gül sisters are left to make high stakes decisions about their relationships with one another, often in the heat of moments infused with anger or unconditional love.

Sharbat. Photo: Tasha Faye
The Gül sisters are left to make high stakes decisions about their relationships with one another, often in the heat of moments infused with anger or unconditional love. Pictured L-R: Mani Mae Gomes as Batty, Sabrina Hafid as Roo and Doreshawar Khan, as Shazia. Photo: Tasha Faye. Photo: Tasha Faye

This play was very close to home for me – a brown child of a migrant mother, I’m currently navigating the wild ride of young adulthood – but if I could sum up my experience of seeing this show in one word, I would use the word “empowering”. At many points, I found myself witnessing deeply relatable scenes of suffering, the exchange of fury onstage between the sisters summoning the peculiarly visceral qualities of quarrels with brown family members. The characters’ dialogue frequently overlaps, something I’ve seen so often when my Amma argues with her friends, or when I argue with her or my brother – talking over each other until you’re both in tears, raising your voice and never being heard because you’re two completely different people.

I was also deeply touched by the intermittent soliloquies of the sisters’ memories of their late mother, a kind and mighty woman who was sometimes seen crying “…like someone was ripping her limbs off…her frail body wracked with sobs.” But these scenes were ultimately a cathartic experience for me and, as such, a rare and necessary find for brown theatre-goers of the independent scene in Perth.

At its heart, this play is one of great strength: young brown strength. Growing up as children of migrants in Australia, we often find that “…life [takes] us through the backstreets of emotions.” We do what we can to feel seen, we have a lot of pressure to live a certain way that may actually not feel right for us, and we aren’t always bothered to face up to racists on the streets or in our workplaces. We’ve got the world on our shoulders, and we know how to handle it. This is what SHARBAT reminded me.

SHARBAT delivers a compelling and heart-warming work of big feelings and big love, with down-to-earth performances, sharp writing, and the coolest “Eidmas” tree topper you have ever seen.

SHARBAT runs October 24 to November 2 at the Blue Room Theatre.

Read an interview with SHARBAT playwright Doreshawar Khan.

Pictured top (L-R) are Mani Mae Gomes as Batty, Sabrina Hafid as Roo and Doreshawar Khan, as Shazia. Photo: Tasha Faye.

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Zal Kanga-Parabia

Author —
Patrick Gunasekera

Patrick Gunasekera is a queercrip Sinhala artist working across performance, visual media, and writing. After reading a poorly written review on a show about disability, he got into arts writing to critically engage with touchy topics that affect him personally. He loved the monkey-bars as a kid because he wanted strong arms. Photo by Zal Kanga-Parabia.

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