Writer Sara Shaarawi’s Niqabi Ninja is an audio play that unfolds in the streets of Edinburgh city centre*. This isn’t a gimmick or a money-saving ploy, though. This outdoor experience – devised by Shaarawi alongside director Catrin Evans – is devised to force us to consider the safety of our own streets and acknowledge the fact that violence against women happens on all streets in every city.
Guided by a narration that takes you along a carefully mapped route, we begin by listening to Hana and a mysterious, authoritative companion (performed by Rebecca Banatvala and Juliana Yazbeck) describe busy Cairo streets. They speak of Egyptian Gods and supernatural abilities before a story emerges, becoming more grounded in contemporary times. As we meander along the route, Hana sketches memories from various stages in her life: buying a bra for the first time; visiting a club in London; simply walking along city streets. Each recollection has a grim connection though – the omnipresence of misogyny and violence. She presents frank and brutal images of what men have said and done to her on a daily basis. For some listeners, this account of women’s experiences will be striking, alarming. For others, sadly, it will be utterly familiar and unsurprising.
The walk is also signposted with colourful sketches around the city streets that accompany Hana’s stories. It’s an effective tool to bolster the audio element and bring a change of pace at various points, encouraging us to focus on visual details. They also cleverly enhance the idea of Hana’s comic book hero alter-ego and create the sense of walking through an interactive graphic novel.
Niqabi Ninja is a call to arms; a war cry from voices that rightfully demand change immediately. It’s a powerful experience – so much so that a quiet space for reflection is offered at the Lyceum, the performance’s starting point – and an excellent example of carefully crafted, engaging audio theatre.
*Niqabi Ninja is also available in other cities across Scotland, including Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, and Inverness.