As playwright Sudha Bhuchar relates in her foreword to this verbatim play, the incident was portrayed as a ‘clash of civilizations tug of love’, the girl a victim of a culture that was going to sell her into a forced marriage. Or was she? The girl re-emerged in Pakistan, and announced to the press that she had gone there of her own accord. The pantomime boo-hiss directed at her father was quickly re-directed at the mother, who was rebranded ‘unfit’ while the father was rehabilitated as ‘loving’ rather than a ‘jihadi tyrant’.
Philip Osment’s appealingly direct production for Tamasha allows us to see straight into the two houses of the protagonists. If you’re sitting in the front row, grass from the garden brushes against your toes. The illusion is that mother, father and daughter are all in the same room. But it’s not just the furnishings that reveal the two halves of the sitting room are continents apart. On one side, Kiran Sonia Sawar’s schoolgirl – here renamed Ghazala (formerly Gaby) – chats away happily about her new life in Pakistan as her father Farhan looks on adoringly. On the other side, her mother Suzy sits wretchedly in front of her sofa as she relates the false accusations of drug-taking and mental illness thrown at her by the press.
An article in the Guardian prompted Bhuchar to go and talk to the protagonists, and the extraordinary story that unravels before us shows that while religion may be a dividing line in some communities, here the press was far more destructive. Both Karen Bartke, as young mother Suzy/Sajida and Umar Ahmed as Farhan are deeply impressive for the affecting performances they give of a young couple who fell in love and genuinely wanted to create the best future possible for their children.
The faultlines that eventually emerged in the marriage were cultural, yet this often humorous and entertaining piece is fascinating precisely because it is equally a story in human fallibility and gives no easy answers. At a point when it has been revealed that a third of the UK population will be made up of ethnic minorities by 2050, ‘My Name Is…’ makes a powerful case for clear rather than prejudiced thinking.