Monday, 5 May 2014

Theatre review: My Name Is...

A few years ago a story caught the media's attention for the way it seemed to encapsulate the culture clash between Islam and the West: The daughter of a white Scottish mother and a father of Pakistani descent, teenager "Gaby" had been raised in Glasgow, but had apparently been abducted by her father and taken to Pakistan, allegedly to be married off to an older man. Her mother launched an international hunt for her, but when the girl was found she insisted her name was Ghazala, and she'd gone voluntarily. Needless to say the story was a bit more complicated than it first appeared, and Sudha Bhuchar's verbatim drama My Name Is...sees the writer interview Suzy (Karen Bartke) in Scotland, and Ghazala (Kiran Sonia Sawar) with her father Farhan (Umar Ahmed) in Pakistan, and tries to piece together the story from the conflicting accounts.

So what we get is the story of Farhan and Suzy's 15-year marriage, frowned on by his family, but accepted on the proviso that she convert to Islam. She does, and becomes a genuinely devout Muslim, raising their children strictly in the religion.

As the years go by and their relationship breaks down, Suzy feels under ever more pressure from Farhan until she has a nervous breakdown that crushes her faith. It's at this point where things get more complex, with the press demonising both parents at various times, and Bhuchar strikes a balance in presenting their stories that means each parent at some point seems understandable, at others unforgivable.

It's strongly acted and intense but pretty relentless, and at times I found it uncomfortable to watch for personal reasons: All religions have rules that are prone to be taken advantage of, but no religion has a monopoly on certain personality types, so although the mix of cultures I grew up in was a completely different one, the crumbling relationship was unpleasantly close to home for me.

My Name Is... by Sudha Bhuchar is booking until the 24th of May at Arcola Studio 2; then continuing on tour to Glasgow.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

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