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  • Aisha Khan

★★★★ Lines: A look into the colonial past and present

John Rwothomack and Fidaa Zidan in Lines. Photo by Smart Banda.

Has there been a more politically relevant time for a show about colonialism spanning across generations and countries? Probably, but now’s as good a time as any.

Staged at Sheffield Theatres' Playhouse, Lines spans across five decades, in five prisons, with five stories of seemingly disconnected individuals, all connected by the threads of colonialism. With only two onstage actors, Kevin Jenkins’ minimal set of a wall, several metal bars, and a handful of props, Lines tells the compelling story of how different lives are affected by war, the lingering legacy of colonialism in postcolonial Uganda, present colonialism in Palestine, and suppression within the UK. These stories were supported and introduced by Tal Yarden’s educational projections of personal and geographical histories of Uganda and Palestine. 

All the different characters and their stories, including the son of a former Ugandan officer and a queer woman in Kampala, are depicted by Ugandan-born, Sheffield-based actor, John Rwothomack, and Palestinian actress, Fidaa Zidan. With their real experiences and genuine feelings channeled into their characters, each story felt incredibly authentic and real. 

John Rwothomack and Fidaa Zidan in Lines. Photo by Smart Banda.

Throughout the decades, personalities, and stories of oppression, one key underlying theme remained: being stuck. Stuck in the past, stuck in the throes of colonialism, stuck in prison, stuck in their struggles with their identities. The idea of being stuck was portrayed well through the metal bars that made up the set - the lines. To me, the lines created by the bars represented barriers: barriers between the characters, barriers between cultures and races, barriers between ideas, barriers between expectations of self and reality. For the most part, the lines/barriers were firmly planted. Though changing throughout each scene and time period, the barriers held the characters at a distance from one another, setting them firmly in their place on the stage.

Adding to this sense of being trapped was the ambient music and lighting, creating a feeling of immersive claustrophobia. With minimalistic but significant sounds like a beating heart and dramatic music, Lee Affen was able to teleport the audience from the seats to the stage, stuck in the same oppressive system as the characters themselves. This panic, desperation and isolation was further amplified by the lighting by K.J - darkness during the prison scenes, representing the bleakness of the situation. 

However, it wasn’t all tragedy and trauma, I promise! There were moments of joy, which spotlights highlighted: a wife informing her imprisoned husband that she was pregnant, dancing and singing while reminiscing. Additionally, while changing and maneuvering the metal bars between scenes, the actors were themselves rather than the characters they played, wherein they broke the barriers between each other and the audience. These moments were light, with comedy to balance out the necessarily grim political overtones. To me, it felt hopeful too - a reality where even with horrible things going on in the world, there is always some light and hope. Life does go on. The fighting and activism will continue, as will life and all the good things within it. 

It truly was a gripping performance. It was powerful, it was human, and it was critical. Rwothomack and Zidan were riveting in their performance, and the profundity of the piece is one which will have an impact on audiences globally. 

Lines is a co-production by Sheffield Theatres, Roots Mbili Theatre and Remote Theater Project, and is open until Saturday 9 March.

John Rwothomack and Fidaa Zidan in Lines. Photo by Smart Banda.


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