Mother’s Little Helper

I saw the opening night of Favour at Bush Theatre.

The set is unusually elaborate by Bush standards. Instead of their normal minimalism, we have a quite detailed version of the living room/dining room of a council house in Ilford, with a kitchen area sunk in to the floor. The sofa can expand out to represent the seating in a nail bar, whilst the back wall panels showing family portraits can flip around to open portals for surprise gifts.

This picture is not very clear, so here is also the description from the playscript.

Dramatis personae:

The theatre is arranged with seating on 3 sides. Leila is already in the foreground, working on her art homework whilst Noor is in the kitchen, whilst the audience come in. The Welcome Home! banner is taken down after the appearance of Aleena, who is out of prison and on remand.

The time is close to the present. There is no mention of pandemic or lockdown, though Leila states in Scene Six that “London’s overrated, everyone’s moving out now.” She also mentions Little Mix:

Leila is living with Noor whilst her mum Aleena serves her sentence for a crime we do not specified until the climax. Leila suffers anxiety and so Noor is trying to give her the most stable environment possible. They are also supposed to be supported by their better-off friends and relations represented by Fozia, though we learn that this is not as generous as Aleena imagined it would be.

Aleena is now out on probation and expected to meet the conditions of her freedom by doing voluntary work at the mosque, on the way to gaining enough experience to apply for paid work again. She is supposed to be on medication as well to deal with the mental health problems that led to her decline into alcoholism, which lost her her old job. She initially appears buzzing with energy and full of babble about “Meditation, aligning my chakras, I even saw my spirit animal” during her time inside, when she shared a cell with another prisoner called Sian. The script notes that:

In this production we are not given to understand there was anything deep about the relationship with Sian, who is not indicated to be dead or out on parole. We do not get the impression that Aleena is able to have any complex, reciprocal relationships, and very little is said about the one that produced Leila, other than that it occurred outside marriage.

Aleena is soon back to her drinking and shoplifting habits and not taking the tablets, and the audience is led unwillingly to see her as simply an incurably bad influence that the almost saintly Noor would be better off excluding entirely from Leila’s life. The “escape” to a new life together promised in scene 5 is just wishful thinking, underlined by the fantasy behaviour of the set (bright lights swirl and a magic Mocktail is produced out of a wall hatch on demand). But this judgement is then unwound and dismantled as we get the background details of the damage and exploitation done to Aleena by those helpful relatives who in fact just help themselves, and set her up as a patsy for a fraud. Bad people can still be good and loving parents, and we’re left with the suggestion that the chaotic, unconventional mother may do parts of the job better than alternatives.

Also in the foyer is a souvenir from House Of Ife:

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