Liberation Squares at Nottingham Playhouse
12th – 27th April 2024
4****

Production photos by Ali Wright

In an era when dissent is being criminalised, what does it take to speak up?

This is the question posed by Liberation Squares by Fifth Word, a local touring company
whose focus is working to amplify the voices of minority communities and the
underrepresented.

Opening scenes establish camaraderie between musical Ruqaya (Vaneeka Dadhria) and
intellectual Sabi (Asha Hassan). Both actors do a great job and their natural charisma shines
from the start. The whole audience really warmed to them, creating a lovely atmosphere in
the smaller performance space of Neville Studio, as we all rooted for these school girls.

Ruqaya and Sabi are being bullied, and fantasise about how their lives will change when
they move to the local college. Xara (Halema Hussain) is introduced, and Ruqaya is
impressed with her sassy attitude in dealing with the bullies and her numbers of online
followers. Sabi is not so enamoured, but she has her own dilemma to consider…

When their local library becomes a ‘Bibliotek’—‘with a K!’—outspoken Xara becomes an
ambassador for a group promoting sisterhood through poetry. Unfortunately, her rivalry with
Sabi gets the better of her, and Xara’s phone is confiscated after she uses it to film Sabi
against her will.

A video created by the trio protesting this outrage brings them to the attention of the Prevent
program, which is designed to prevent terrorism by finding potential future subjects before
they are radicalised—before any crime has been committed.

You don’t have to be far-sighted to connect this with Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report—the
smash-hit play of which was performed at the Playhouse recently (review here), and indeed, the phrase ‘Pre-crime’ is used in Liberation Squares.

At first the students struggle to understand what is going on, they are under suspicion, but
they don’t know what for or why!

The investigation eventually unites them, and they plan a heist of ‘Bibliotek’ to find out what
is really going on.

An effective scene has Xara reeling off the criteria by which ‘suspects’ are selected for
further investigation, while Sabi simultaneously attempts to ground herself against a panic
attack by listing things she can see, touch, hear, and smell.

The juxtaposition of alternating their lines in this scene is claustrophobic and tense; it’s
impressive stagecraft and almost difficult to watch.

These ordinary girls realise that their futures may be changed by this short-sighted
spotlighting – will it affect their careers, their prospects? Will it be on ‘their files’ forever? Have
they been racially profiled?

Well, certainly they have.

The set design was simplistic, with a trio of large whiteboards, some lamps, and an old-style
overhead projector, but the cast worked very hard to make the sparse setting effective, and
were largely successful. What the actors had to say was far more important, than where they
appeared to be when they said it.

The beatboxing and rhyming performed by Vaneeka Dadhira was skillfully done, serving to
create a sense of time and place.

Halema Hussain’s longer speeches and spoken poetry were equally articulate and
compelling.

Asha Hassan’s portrayal of Sabi was endearing – my definite favourite; though the young
team all gave excellent accounts of themselves.

Liberation Squares offers an evening that is both educational and entertaining. I’ll be sure to
keep an eye out for more productions by this talented company Fifth Word.

The Prevent programme is a real government initiative and for those of us who were
unaware of it before entering the theatre, we’re privileged. The programme has been
condemned for the violation of Human Rights by Amnesty International.

The play sheds light on important issues and encourages audiences to question the impact
of surveillance and profiling on individuals and communities.

Overall, Liberation Squares delivers a thought-provoking experience that lingers long after
the curtain falls.

You can book tickets here

AL