Friday, 1 November 2013

Theatre review: The Djinns of Eidgah

Kashmir isn't just a disputed zone, it's been disputed since 1948, and is still awaiting the referendum that was promised to decide whether it's part of India, Pakistan or an independent state. India seems to have a clear opinion on the matter, its military presence making the valley the world's most heavily militarised area. The predominantly Muslim local population fights back against this, and the conflict is the backdrop for Abhishek Majumdar's The Djinns Of Eidgah. When she was 10 years old, Ashrafi (Aysha Kala) witnessed her father's violent death and was mentally scarred by it, retreating into a fantasy world that she's still in four years later. Ashrafi's brother Bilal (Danny Ashok) cites her as the reason he's not as politicised as his friends, preferring to hold out hope that someone will spot his footballing talent and give him and his sister a new life.

As Bilal's friends flirt with revolution, a parallel story gives a different aspect as Ashrafi's psychiatrist Dr Baig (Vincent Ebrahim) is haunted, perhaps literally, by his dead son Junaid (Nikesh Patel,) who joined the mujahideen. His own loss has led the doctor to seek a middle ground in the conflict.

At times Majumdar's ambition threatens to overwhelm the play: These two stories are joined by that of two Indian soldiers (Paul Bazely and Jaz Deol) who are ostensibly there to guard the neighbourhood but may themselves be pawns of people who'd like to see violence break out. So in the story's middle section we sometimes lose sight of one thread for a bit too long, and there's a loss of focus. The three connected strands really do tie up satisfactorily by the end though.

And Richard Twyman's production maintains a lyrical tone, set by the stories from scripture the siblings' father would tell them as bedtime stories when he was alive, and maintained through the rest of the play with help from Natasha Chivers' dreamy lighting on Tom Scutt's traverse. And there's some nice attention to detail (in a play where the nature of a djinn is a recurring theme, Ashrafi watches the genie from Aladdin on her TV) as well as excellent performances, particularly from Ashok, Kala and Ebrahim, but everyone contributes satisfyingly nuanced characterisations.

The Djinns of Eidgah by Abhishek Majumdar is booking until the 9th of November at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

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