Dirty Pakistani Lingerie, a play about integration and identity, comes to Ilford
- Credit: Archant
As CVs go, American director Erica Gould’s is pretty impressive.
Not only was she a professional ballet dancer, but she is the only woman registered with the Stage Director’s Union to co-ordinate fight scenes for film and theatre in the US.
In her spare time she teaches young girls how to defend themselves with swords, as part of the No Damsel in Distress project – she wants them to be able to save themselves rather than sit in a tower waiting for a man to come along.
You could say that empowerment is a big thing for her and that’s why her latest project – directing the play Dirty Pakistani Lingerie – is right up her washing line.
The show tells the story of six Pakistani-American characters aged between six and 65, with all of them played by writer and actress Aizzah Fatima.
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While some are members of families who have lived in America for generations, others have only just arrived and are still assimilating to the culture around them.
“I think one of the primary universalities that the piece taps into is that of the ‘hyphenated’ experience,” said Erica.
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“Whether one’s family has been here for five months or five generations, there is an inherent tension between what has been left behind and what we take with us, between the impulse to assimilate and the desire to maintain our identity.”
All the characters in the play struggle with some iteration of this dilemma and their stories and journeys are framed by poems written by one of the most influential Urdu poets, Mirza Ghalib.
The poems are stylistically different from the women’s stories and Erica said they form a prism through which the rest of the piece may be understood.
The director also touched on the obstacles and barriers that women face in society today, with the play drawing attention to the fact that verse written hundreds of years ago can still speak meaningfully to them.
The production may focus on the ins and outs of six women, but it not just for those with XX chromosomes.
“The stories are powerful and explore deep-rooted issues,” said Erica.
“Just because it’s about women it doesn’t mean we have to put a pink bow on it and make it cute.
“I have been deeply affected by the response to the play and it has resonated with audiences from wide-ranging cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds.”
After the play, Erica and Aizzah often hold “talk backs” and audience members, if they wish, can air their views on the show.
Erica said she was not surprised to hear that a woman wearing an hijab felt the show reflected parts of her life – as a Jewish director she was pleased she could accurately give a voice to a group who don’t always get their stories told – but she wasn’t expecting an elderly Japanese couple to recognise their own story, or a Jewish man in his early 20s and a 40-year-old African-American woman to identify with the experiences in the work.
“That something so specific could resonate with people of so many different ethic, religious and cultural backgrounds and age ranges and across gender lines was unexpected, but so meaningful to me,” said Erica.
“That it has done so has confirmed my belief that art may illuminate the universal though an honest exploration of the specific.”
Dirty Pakistani Lingerie has toured all around the world, including New York, Toronto, Turkmenistan and Edinburgh.
It has received strong reviews from critics and talks are currently in progress to make a film adaptation.
For a night of laughs, life stories and lingerie, head down to the Kenneth More Theatre, Oakfield Road, Ilford, on April 3 at 7.30pm.
To book tickets, call the box office on 0208 553 4466 or visit kmtheatre.co.uk.