Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Crows Plucked Your Sinews

Hassan Mahamdallie
Dervish
Contact Theatre, Manchester
27 January 2016 to 29 January 2016

The Crows Plucked Your Sinews, written and directed by Hassan Mahamdallie, is a strikingly original examination of cultural identity and a quest for purpose. In present day Woolwich a young Somali woman (sole performer Yusra Warsama) drifts through life – father lost to cancer, mother dreaming of past pleasures, and brother a shiftless drug dealer. The discovery that her great-grandmother was a dervish warrior fighting with the ‘Mad Mullah’ against British rule in Somaliland stimulates awareness that her circumstances and family need not limit her life choices. 

Hassan Mahamdallie crams a great deal into the play, and determining an overall point of view is not easy – the woman’s options may have widened, but her future direction remains unclear. It may be that the way heroes or villains are perceived is a matter of circumstances and the passage of time. Both Osama Bin Laden and the ‘Mad Mullah’ behaved as terrorists, yet the former died in ignominy whereas the latter escaped his enemies and passed into legend. This raises the disturbing possibility that Bin Laden’s humiliating death might be forgotten and he could again become an inspirational figure for some.  

It is a play of strong contrasts. Lyrical passages – the Somali are described as mystical Genie, exiled to the four corners of the earth – are delivered by Yusra Warsama in a brash London accent. The erosion of local cultures by British and American colonialism is unflinchingly depicted.  

Despite the violence described in the play, Hassan Mahamdallie sets a mood of restraint suitable for reflections on identity. The audience enters to the atmospheric music of Abdelkader Saadoun, played live and so seductive that the entrance of Yusra Warsama almost goes unnoticed. Stark black and white visuals by Rachael Gadsden are used sparingly but to great effect. 

Yusra Warsama creates a range of characters physically as much as verbally. The twisted posture of the mother suggests a predatory insect, while the dervish warrior, hair hanging loose and back ramrod straight, has a proud aspect. It is a completely absorbing performance. 

The Crows Plucked Your Sinews is not going to appeal to everyone. The dervish warriors gloating over the bodies of the British soldiers may be historically accurate, but it is still hard to take. Yet this is a thought provoking and superbly performed play that deserves to be seen by a wide audience.

Reviewer: David Cunningham