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NEWS: Liberation Squares casting announced

21 February 2024

Nottingham Playhouse and Fifth Word today announce the cast and creatives for their brand-new co-production Liberation Squares, written by Sonali Bhattacharyya, in association with Brixton House. 

Liberation Squares is a riotous, funny play told through the technicolour lens of three British Muslim schoolgirls. Inspired by graphic novels, hip hop, pop culture and real-world youth activists, Liberation Squares asks what it takes for young Muslim women today to be the heroes of their own stories.

Playing the dynamic Ruqaya is Vaneeka Dadhria (Cyrano de Bergerac, West End; Unite – It’s Not As Simple As Black & White, New Vic, Stoke), best friend Sabi is played by Asha Hassan (Bad Education, BBC Three: Cuttin’ It, Manchester Royal Exchange) and social media influencer Xara is played by Halema Hussain (The Father and the Assassin, National Theatre; Vardy vs Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial for Eleanor Lloyd Productions).

Written by the award-winning Sonali Bhattacharyya (Sonia Friedman Production Award and Theatre Uncut Political Playwriting Award for Chasing Hares) and directed by the acclaimed Milli Bhatia (Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner, Jerwood Theatre; Blue Mist, Royal Court), it’s a story of sisterhood, freedom of speech and creative expression.

The Designer is Tomás Palmer (Dreaming & Drowning, Bush Theatre; Julius Caesar, RSC UK Tour), Lighting Designer is Joshua Gadsby (Dreaming and Drowning, The Bush Theatre; New Beginning, Queens Hornchurch), Composer and Sound Designer is Elena Peña (Cinderella, Brixton House; Blue Mist, Royal Court Theatre), Movement Director is Iskandar إسكندر R. Sharazuddin (recipient of the Soho Theatre Tony Craze Playwriting Award, previous work includes BBC Proms and ENO), Casting Director is Arthur Carrington, Dramaturg is Afshan D’souza-Lodhi (awarded The National Theatre’s Peter Shaffer 2022 Commission) and Assistant Director is Jade Franks.

Liberation Squares is a comedy about three teenage girls who forge an unlikely friendship. They challenge each other with Tik Toks, beat-boxing, rap and dance routines … They just want to build their social media empire, or study astronomy, or become as good a rapper as Megan Thee Stallion. But they undergo a political awakening when they realise that what you say – even what you think – is viewed very differently depending on who you are.

When they find themselves the target of the state surveillance ‘Prevent’ programme, they have to fight back. Friendships fracture and loyalties are tested as they pursue different avenues of resistance. In an era when dissent is being criminalised, what does it take to speak up?

Sonali Bhattacharyya, writer of Liberation Squares, said:

“I wanted to write a play about the incredible imagination, inquisitiveness and creativity teenagers have – this is what forges the messy bond between Xara, Ruqaya, and Sabi. Right now, we’re witnessing rapidly normalised Islamophobia and racism, including in government policies like the Prevent surveillance programme, and I wanted to explore how this inhibits young people’s confidence, freedom of expression, and even their futures. I wanted to tell this story through the points of view of young people themselves, with all of the joyful spirit of rebellion that entails!” 

Laura Ford, Artistic Director at Fifth Word commented:

“Fifth Word are delighted to have commissioned Sonali to develop this important and powerful play that explores what it might mean for Muslim girls to become the heroines of their own stories; and what it costs them when they attempt to protest injustice. 

“During the development process, we’ve had the opportunity to work with a group of young Muslim women whose contributions have been vital in shaping the further development of the script. The play puts young female agency centre stage and will make for a thoroughly entertaining yet thought-provoking piece of theatre.

“We are thrilled to be working with our long-standing partners Nottingham Playhouse on this brand-new production and are excited to support Sonali in telling this story to audiences on stages across the country.”

Adam Penford, Artistic Director at Nottingham Playhouse commented:

This provocative new work by the acclaimed playwright, Sonali Bhattacharyya, explores adolescence and identity and asks some challenging questions about institutionalised bias. The writing is full of energy and humour. Sonali’s brilliantly universal writing spears what it’s like to be teenager in a way that everyone will recognise.”

Liberation Squares continues the long-term collaboration with Fifth Word Theatre company following co-productions of Lava, All the Little Lights and Amateur Girl.

Liberation Squares opens at Nottingham Playhouse on 12 April until 27 April, and then tours to seven further venues from 30 April to 8 June, including 10 performances at Brixton House.


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