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Gather Ye Rosebuds
Published on Saturday, 11 May 2013

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4 stars

The Nightingale (venue website)
8-12 May, 9:00pm-9:55pm
Reviewed by Darren Taffinder

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.
 Warning: Contains flashing lights.
 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.

Gather Ye Rosebuds – the name comes from a 17th century poem by Robert Herrick – is the second of two shows from local company Sandpit Arts, responding to the social and political changes in the Middle East brought on by the Arab Spring. Set in Egypt at the height of the Tahrir Square protests, Medina’s family and friends come together for her thirteen year-old daughter’s circumcision. Seeing this show was one of those great surprises you get from time to time at the Fringe; I really liked it.

A second opinion

By Richard Stamp on 11 May 2013

After reading Darren's review, I knew Gather Ye Rosebuds would be balanced, professional and thought-provoking.  What I hadn't realised is that it's also very funny.  The second half uses humour to deliver much-needed relief from the genuinely shocking storyline - and in contrast to Darren, I found I reacted better to that lighter style than to the unremitting tension before the interval.

My main concern is that this sometimes felt like two separate plays linked together into one.  The central topic of female circumcision is almost forgotten for much of the second half, in favour of wider discussion about the treatment of women during the uprising in Tahrir Square.  The strands do come together in the end, but I felt I'd lost a little focus in the meantime, especially since the paradigm-shifting revalation that ends the first act is never referred to again.

But quibbles aside, I agree that this is a fine play, and a compelling story.  I'd never imagined I'd enjoy a piece tackling this particular topic - but I left with the feeling I'd had a good night out, as well as being gently informed.

It’s surprising because, to be honest, a play about female circumcision isn’t entirely my cup of tea. But this proved to be a very complex and nuanced take on an issue that isn’t so far away from our own cultural hang-ups around female sexuality. It’s easy to point a finger at another country’s cultural practices and say that they’re barbaric, but writer Silva Semerciyan does something far harder: she helps you understand why a mother might choose this for her daughter.

The play is in two halves. The first is mainly a dialogue between Medina and her friend Louise, a British-born doctor who recently moved to Cairo and works in the hospital where Medina is a nurse. Louise is opposed to the procedure, and they argue in the kitchen as Medina’s friends and family wait for her in her living room. The second half takes place at the same time in that very living room; Medina’s guests chat together, and become increasingly concerned over the safety of another friend who’s running late.

Michelle Ghatan and Tamar Karabetyan are superb both as Louise and Medina in the first act, and as the devout Najla and worried Samira in the second. Dilek Rose as Medina’s sister, Fatihye, and Donna Combe as her friend, Basma, are also excellent. All four of them give their characters a deep richness. What I really enjoyed about this show is that you don’t feel like you’re being lectured to – more that you’re seeing a complex issue from multiple different cultural and religious perspectives. Both sets of stories had a nice tension to them, and flowed well. I especially appreciated how Fatihye moved between each of them.

It’s not perfect. The low-budget set makes a primary school’s nativity play look West End; I felt it distracted from the overall quality of the show, and I might have tried to do more with less. I found the first half slightly more compelling than the second, where the direction at times seemed flat. Overall, I was looking for more of a visual spark or identity – it’s difficult given the “drawing-room” nature of the plot, but I just felt it needed a touch more flair.

However, even with those few reservations, I simply found it a compelling story – and this show certainly deserves a bigger audience. Not quite a must-see, but definitely a try-and-fit-in see.

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