Monday, 11 September 2017

REVIEW: ISHQ at Sadler's Wells

'Ishq' is a word commonly used in the Muslim world to express passion and the most intense kind of love. In this case it is the title of the first Anglo Sufi musical, written by Mushfiq Murshed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Pakistan's independence and celebrate the cultural fusion between this country and Britain.

Inspired to the Panjabi legend of Heer Ranjha, ISHQ narrates the story of a young couple, whose mutual passion is bound to kill them. Considered as the Romeo and Juliet of the East, Heer (Rasheeda Ali) and Ranjha (Ahsan Khan) meet accidentally when the charming boy is disowned by his family because of his insistent dedication to music. 

Immediately falling in love with him, Heer convinces her wealthy father to hire him as a cowherd but the burning romance is uncovered when Heer's jealous uncle Kaido (Adnan Jaffar) reports the pair's affectionate encounters to the maiden's father. Opposed to the match, Heer's father removes the young man from his employment and rushes an arranged marriage between his daughter and another man. 

Despite Heer and Ranjha eventually reuniting, their doomed love is bound to be a tragedy and the girl is poisoned to death by Kaido, whereas her lover is killed by his own despair.

This ardent plot and the honourable intentions of the creatives, though, don't translate well onto the stage, and the piece is crippled by a punishing length and shoddy production values.

Serious amplification issues and weak performances are just some of the faults that make ISHQ more resemblant of a school panto than a professional musical show. 

The costumes designed by Samina Aslam are gorgeous, and the live music produced by Kansia Pritchard's flute and a traditional percussionist offer some of the most exciting moments of folklore but none of these elements receive the attention deserved. Ali and Khan's never-ending dress-changes don't leave enough time to appreciate their refined beauty. Whereas the bouts of live music have only a marginal role within a narrative that borrows from the Pakistani tradition but unsuccessfully emulates the British musical format.

The set design is often irrelevant, with two crew members more frequently on
stage than many of the actual characters. Declan Randall's beautifully painted backgrounds become repetitive and aren't necessarily complemented by the unresponsive lighting and some pieces of furniture that are repeatedly carried on and off stage, at times for only a few minutes.

More disconcerting, even, is the hefty price of the tickets – ranging between £20 and £125 – which reflects the great ambitions of ISHQ but doesn't take into account the amateurish outcome of a piece that lacks character development, engagement and technical knowledge. 
Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★
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