Liberation Squares at Northern Stage

Liberation Squares at Northern Stage

Three British Muslim teenage girls discover the real-life consequences of the world of social media activism

Written by Sonali Bhattacharyya | Directed by Milli Bhatia

NATIONAL TOUR: 12 April – 8 June

Northern Stage, Newcastle 24 – 25 May

“Seamlessly yokes the personal to the political in sparkling dialogue” ««««« Daily Telegraph (on Chasing Hares)

@FifthWord | @nottmplayhouse | |

Informed by extensive research and interviews, this new play reunites writer Sonali Bhattacharyya with director Milli Bhatia (Chasing Hares, Young Vic). Liberation Squaresis a comedy about sisterhood, freedom of speech, and dissent in the face of institutionalised Islamophobia. When two British Muslim teenagers are introduced to charismatic social media activist Xara, who challenges them to speak up, the three girls undergo a political awakening when they realise what you say, and even what you think, is viewed very differently depending on who you are. Friendships fracture and loyalties are tested as the three pursue different avenues of resistance to scrutiny and surveillance. Inspired by graphic novels, hip hop, pop culture and real-world youth activists, Liberation Squares asks audiences to consider what it takes for young Muslim women today to be the heroes of their own stories.

Sabi and Ruqaya have been best friends since their mothers first met at Baby Rhyme Time at the library. They now spend their time making TikToks, choreographing dance routines, beat-boxing, rapping and hiding from bullies. Everything changes when the charismatic and provocative social media activist Xara enters their lives. They just want to build their social media empire, or study astronomy, or refine their rap skills until they’re as good as Megan Thee Stallion, but they find themselves having to protest against state surveillance instead.

Liberation Squares was informeda series of workshops with young Muslim women from the East Midlands who fed into the early development of the play, helping inform the characters and narrative, andby extensive research and interviews with people impacted by the state surveillance Prevent* programme.

Sonali Bhattacharyya and Milli Bhatia’s previous collaboration, Chasing Hares at the Young Vic, won the Sonia Friedman Production Award and Theatre Uncut Political Playwriting Award. Milli is also known for the Olivier Award nominated seven methods of killing kylie jenner.

Writer Sonali Bhattacharyya said, “I wanted to write a play about the incredible imagination, inquisitiveness and creativity teenagers have – this is what forges the messy bond between Xara, Ruqaya, and Sabi. Right now, we’re witnessing rapidly normalised Islamophobia and racism, including in government policies like the Prevent surveillance programme, and I wanted to explore how this inhibits young people’s confidence, freedom of expression, and even their futures. I wanted to tell this story through the points of view of young people themselves, with all of the joyful spirit of rebellion that entails!”

Sonali Bhattacharyya’s plays include Arabian Nights (Bristol Old Vic), The Jungle Book (Chichester Festival Theatre), Chasing Hares (Young Vic), Two Billion Beats (Orange Tree Theatre and Korean translation at Kirkos Theatre, Seoul),Silence (Tara Theatre and Donmar Warehouse), Megaball (National Theatre Learning), Slummers (Cardboard Citizens/Bunker Theatre), The Invisible Boy (Kiln Theatre) and Assembly: The Teachers’ Play and 2066 (Almeida Theatre).

Milli Bhatia’s directing credits in theatre include Blue Mist by Mohamed-Zain Dada (Royal Court), Chasing Hares by Sonali Bhattacharyya (Young Vic), seven methods of killing kylie jenner by Jasmine Lee-Jones (Royal Court, 2019 and 2021, filmed in 2022, Swedish National Theatre 2022, USA transfer to the Public Theater New York and Woolly Mammoth Washington DC in 2023; nominated for Olivier Award for outstanding achievement in an affiliate theatre), Maryland by Lucy Kirkwood (co directed with Vicky Featherstone and Lucy Morrison, Royal Court/South Bank Centre), My White Best Friend and other letters left unsaid, co-curated with Rachel De-Lahay(Bunker 2018/2019, Royal Court 2020), Dismantle This Room (Bush Theatre/Royal Court), Half Full (Royal Court/RWCMD) and Baghdaddy by Jasmine Naziha Jones(Royal Court).

Fifth Word are a leading new writing company based in the East Midlands, founded in 2007. They make work with and for younger audiences (age 14-25) and under-served communities: uncovering the stories that need to be told. They amplify the stories of those who often go unheard or easily slip through the cracks in society. They collaborate with a range of communities who do not always see the arts as for them: empowering them to tell their own stories through different artistic means. Previous world premiere productions include We Need New Names, adapted by Mufaro Makubika from the Booker-shortlisted novel by NoViolet Bulawayo (Brixton House and UK tour 2023), LAVA by James Fritz (Nottingham Playhouse 2018; Soho Theatre and national tour Spring 2022), All The Little Lights by Jane Upton (Nottingham Playhouse/UK tour/Arcola Theatre 2017 – nominated for Best New Play by the Writers’ Guild Awards and for OffWestEnd Award for Best New Play; Joint Winner of the George Devine Award), Wreck by Toby Campion (Nottingham Playhouse 2017), Amateur Girl by Amanda Whittington (UK tour 2014) and Bonesby Jane Upton (Edinburgh Festival 2011/ UK tour 2012). 

Laura Ford, Artistic Director at Fifth Word said, “Fifth Word are delighted to have commissioned Sonali to develop this important and powerful play that explores what it might mean for Muslim girls to become the heroines of their own stories; and what it costs them when they attempt to protest injustice. During the development process, we’ve had the opportunity to work with a group of young Muslim women whose contributions have been vital in shaping the further development of the script. The play puts young female agency centre stage and will make for a thoroughly entertaining yet thought-provoking piece of theatre.”

Nottingham Playhouse is dedicated to making bold and thrilling world-class theatre, proudly made in Nottingham. In 2023, it was named the UK’s Most Welcoming Theatre in the UK Theatre Awards. Nottingham Playhouse is one of the country’s leading producing theatres, renowned for creating ambitious and diverse productions, many of which have toured across the UK and have transferred to the West End and Broadway. The theatre’s acclaimed participation programme creates life-changing experiences for the local community and its Theatre of Sanctuary status ensures it is a space where everyone feels they belong. Nottingham Playhouse nurtures the next generation of theatre-makers through their dynamic artist support programme, Amplify. Recently awarded a Silver Carbon Literacy standard, Nottingham Playhouse is committed to continually improving its sustainability standards across productions and its Grade II* listed building. 

Running Time: 90 mins approx, with no interval | Suitable for ages 14+
Content warning: 
contains sensitive subject matter including descriptions of Islamophobic and racist violence and references to racism and Islamophobia

Company information

Director Milli Bhatia                                                        Writer Sonali Bhattacharyya

Set and Costume Designer Tomás Palmer       Movement Director Iskandar R. Sharazuddin

Sound Designer & Composer Elena Peña        Dramaturgy Afshan D’Souza-Lodhi

Lighting design Joshua Gadsby                       Assistant Director Jade Franks

Creative Associate Nic Wass                            Casting Arthur Carrington


Ruqaya Vaneeka Dadhria          Sabi Asha Hassan        Xara Halema Hussain

Social media

Twitter:             @FifthWord | @NottmPlayhouse

Instagram         @fifthword_theatre | @nottmplayhouse




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