Theatre review: Hear Word! Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Hear Word! Lyceum Theatre
Hear Word! Lyceum Theatre
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In Nigerian English, the phrase “hear word!” means “listen, and learn."

Hear Word! Lyceum Theatre, * * * *

In this brilliantly vivid, angry and uplifting show, staged as part of the Edinburgh International Festival’s You Are Here programme, co-writer and director Ifeoma Fafunwa and her company of a dozen Nigerian actresses and performers, have a clear and hugely significant message to deliver, about the need to move on from traditional practices and attitudes which are abusive towards women, and to ensure and celebrate a new world of equality and mutual respect.

Described by the New York Times as “agitprop theatre of an exceptionally vital order”, Hear Word! offers a 75-minute sequence of short scenes, a few involving dance, most based on monologue or dialogue, and all accompanied by the subtle, driving rhythms of a three-man onstage percussion band. The subjects covered range from rape and sexual harassment at work, and child abuse by family and friends, to outrageous traditional practices that rob widowed women of all rights and status, and the insidious role of women themselves in enforcing patriarchal rules through gossip and bullying.

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There are moments when it feels as though the show might benefit from some central presence or narration, to pull together all these threads of insight and argument, and provide a context for each individual performer as she comes forward. Yet when the company come together at last, to sing out their list of indictments of society’s failure, their sense of solidarity as women who will no longer betray one another, and their demands for a better future, the cumulative effect is overwhelming; and supported throughout by the unspoken visual brilliance and exuberance of a Nigerian culture that may often still silence and brutalise women, but that also, in the glorious colours of their clothes and the vibrant sensuality of their dance, provides huge resources of joy and strength on which to draw, in the continuing struggle for a more equal future.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Until 25 August

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