Every year, 15 million girls worldwide are married before they reach their 18th birthday. Fifteen million. That’s equivalent to the combined populations of Sweden and Norway. To call it shocking is a statement of the breathtakingly obvious. AISHA, written and directed by AJ and staged at The Hen & Chickens Theatre, shines a light on a single, imagined instance.
AJ tells us more about AISHA:
“Many have asked me what inspired me to create such a unique play. My answer to them is art.
“I was not inspired by the standardised commodity that we call art today. Not by an art form where the value of theatre has become diminished within our culture and society, due to its increasingly heteronomous and standardised nature.
“I was not inspired by an art form where most theatres claim to produce work that is original or different, but once examined more critically, their creations exhibit superficial differences.
“I am referring to the essential element that conceived an art form like theatre. The act of expression that is unfiltered and unprocessed. Expression without the confinement of unnecessary limitations such as artistic policies: whilst hoping that whatever you express influences the spectator, socially or politically.
“I am referring to the highest form of expression, which excludes the pressure of selling tickets or receiving notoriety. Don’t get it twisted! I do not claim to be perfect. However, I do not need to be perfect to speak honestly and openly about an industry.
“If you are wondering why I chose to create a play about child marriage. Well, I felt obliged to.
“I read a vague article about a nine-year-old child that was forced to marry an older man. He bought his child bride not with money, but with a material possession, I believe. This material possession was given to the child bride’s parents, which they benefited from.
“I was aware of child marriage prior to reading this article. Being from a diverse and working-class community, I have witnessed the occurrence of this practice in the UK. So I knew it existed. But I was perturbed by how there is not enough coverage of this practice occurring in the UK.
“It is dangerously overlooked and perceived as something that does not happen in our supposedly civilised country. Nah, bruv, just because child marriage is something that you might not be aware of, your blindness should not be used to question its existence.
“Child marriage is a practice that continues to destroy the lives of many. It doesn’t just affect the child, it also affects society. Child marriage encompasses many other aspects, such as domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, rape, mental/physical abuse, early pregnancy. The latter can cause complications like fistula, miscarriage or result in death.
“I believe we are all responsible for each other. It is our duty to help those who are in need, especially our children, before we help ourselves.
“Please do not think that child marriage only occurs in the black diaspora, or within Islam, Christianity or any other religion or social system. Child marriage is a human flaw that happens anywhere, at any time, and to anyone.
“I believe child marriage should be eradicated. I wanted to contribute to this cause by explicitly portraying the devastating consequences of such a practice in the hope of influencing others to assist in ensuring that this needed social change occurs. I felt theatre was the best medium to achieve this.
“When real-life experiences or events are captured within a dramatic form, intense or compelling emotions can be drawn out from audiences. In turn, powerful outcomes such as change in attitude or behaviour are possible. People gain knowledge and insight through life experiences.
“I formed my company, AILIA, to produce AISHA. I have always been an artist but this is the first play I have written and directed. I will strive to do anything I can to empower those who have been disempowered by social issues. I will do all I can to help those with my art, by any means necessary.
“Another reason I decided to produce AISHA myself is because, as I expected, not one theatre wanted to support this play. Which I am not mad at, because I was offering a piece of art that defied conventions, conventions that were set by them to benefit them only.
“AILIA will be a home for all types of artists, regardless of your colour, your background, your sexual orientation. It will be a home for artists that have the balls to be daring and wish to experiment. It will be a home for the artist that strictly cares about the art. Whatever makes you unique or different we will champion. We don’t give a toss about money or notoriety. A large percentage of the money from AISHA ticket sales will be donated to child-marriage and child-sexual-exploitation charitable organisations.”