When leaving the after viewing ‘The Walls Between Us’ on November 18th, the resounding feeling was that of connection – a connection to the writing of Farrah Chaudhry, to the fictional Jamil family, and especially to the character of the grandmother, Fazeela. Chaudhry is an experienced writer for screen, having previously written for Coronation Street, with her debut short film Look At Us selected for the 2021 UK Asian Film Festival.
Another notable element of this production was its commitment to accessibility; the performance was captioned as well as having a sign language translation. Whilst at times the captioning faced some technical issues and occasionally revealed usually-unnoticeable mistakes from the cast, it enabled the production to reach as wide an audience as possible and upheld its commitment to inclusivity and accessibility.
As part of the , the emotional emphasis of the performance fell on the character of Rahil (Vimal Korpal), whose role as a key worker sees him isolated from his family and the subsequent loss of his job sees his mental health spiralling. Whilst this plotline was significant in its exploration of male mental health, it felt somewhat overshadowed by the interactions between university student Malaika (Ravneet Sehra) and her grandmother Fazeela (Promila Bittu-Safaya) that created the real emotional heart of the production.
The domestic setting felt like we were given a true insight into a family during the struggles of the past eighteen months. The physical walls – cleverly created through staging and lighting – that separated the characters were contrasted by the lack of barrier between audience and stage, which gave the impression that we had been granted access into the home of the Jamil family. From this personal invitation we as an audience must be grateful to Chaudhry for such intimacy.
Fazeela was a particular highlight and shone as a woman constrained both by the pandemic and by her fractious relationships with friends, family, and neighbours. As well as a very convincing performance detailing her complex feelings towards her granddaughter, Bittu-Safaya’s warmth and humour stood her apart from the rest of the cast; from mocking Prime Minister Boris Johnson as ‘Borison’ to the physical comedy of attempting to use Zoom for the first time.
Produced by , the performance was immersed in Pakistani culture and voiced an experience that deserves more attention in mainstream media. The use of Urdu, particularly by Fazeela, lent the dialogue authenticity and helped to illustrate the cultural and generational rifts between Fazeela and Malaika. The story created a balance between moments of levity and tragic existentialism – these limits of experience provided a raw and real juxtaposition, captivating the emotional ebbs and flows felt by many during lockdown.