A TAPESTRY OF TERROR AND BEAUTY
Dim behind a soft mosquito-net, a father tells his children a tale of Djinns: creatures of scorching smokeless fire, pure passion without reason who battle with magicians in wars which are only illusion. The tale resolves in gentleness as the soft eyes of great Hamza’s daughter look down as stars, and ends “May the queen of sleep bless you with pleasant and beautiful dreams. Shabba-khair”. The Urdu goodnight is shattered: through the misty veiling stride helmeted soldiers, ripping aside peace and taking us six years on. We are in a football changing-room where Bilal, the star Kashmiri teenage striker, is preparing in his broken old boots for a trial which might take him to the Brazil, to freedom and doctors for his sister Ashrafi. For at thirteen she has regressedto the terrified ten-year-old she was when her father fell dead in her lap, shot at a wedding-party.
Bilal holds aloof – for now – from the parades and demonstrations against the Indian occupation. He tolerates curfews and body-searches in the heightened emotion as Eid approaches and the latest shot child awaits burial by an angry community. Between patriotism and family duty, he is torn between betrayals.
Kashmir is the world’s most intensively occupied nation – or would-be nation – and like a rifle-shot from its deadly heart comes a play of sweltering intensity by Abhishek Majumdar from Bangalore. It crackles with pain and mystery, a subcontinent’s echo of Aeschylean tragedy: with extraordinary emotional power it tangles its human dilemmas with Muslim spirituality and mountain legend. In Tom Scutt’s stark design we are inside a great loom, an unfinished rich carpet below, the bare threads above and at either end becoming becoming prison bars or a half-seen afterworld. Danny Ashok and Aysha Kala are the orphan siblings, radiantly youthful (Richard Twyman directs Kala’s moments of traumatic recall with great power). But equally central is old Dr Baig, a psychiatrist struggling with an overborne hospital and the memory of his own son’s progress from stone-throwing dissent to Mujahideen training and a horrible death. Vincent Ebrahim is magnificent, the eternal figure of the good man struggling for reconciliation in a volatile, angry world. He resists the aggressive Jihad spiritualities but in final moments, between life and afterlife, affirms a universal humanity. And Ashrafi finds a strange final eloquence to comfort her tortured brother. “Death is the dream at the end of life”.
Prose and poetry weave as intricately as the carpet. Between intense and ghostly moments we are suddenly with boys talking football and politics, or with two squabbling Indian soldiers trapped in a guard-post. Their fears, nerves, and reluctant tales of atrocities committed in trauma are horribly reminiscent both of our own Northern Ireland years and of Iraq. For all its nightmare Djinns and spiritual strangeness, it becomes a play for any conflict.
0207 565 5000 http://www.royalcourttheatre.com to 9 November Sponsored: Genesis Foundation/ British Council