This Royal Court debut from Indian playwright Abhishek Majumdar is a gutsy, pummelling affair that offers an insight into the terrible daily pressures faced by young Muslim men living in Indian Kashmir.
It doesn’t quite work in the Court’s tiny upstairs theatre – after the almost kitchen-sink first half in which we follow decent bloke Bilal (Danny Ashok) and his efforts to keep his nose clean and advance the football career that will take him out of the troubled region, things start getting seriously confusing: ghosts turn up to have lengthy chats with the living, the living start spouting rambling philosophical screeds, and the focus of the play dissipates amidst its large cast of characters.
The space and attendant budget of the Court’s larger downstairs theatre would probably have clarified these flourishes – I can imagine the second half having a macabre, Sarah-Kane-ish texture that it never achieves here.
Still, another Court debutant, director Richard Twyman, does a great job with modest resources to conjure a Kashmir with one foot in its ravishing, myth- and music-drenched past – David McSeveney’s droning music is wonderful, as is Natasha Chiver’s eerie lighting – and one foot lodged painfully in its near-dystopic present.
Both Ashok and Vincent Ebrahim’s beleagured psychiatrist Dr Baig are excellent at conveying the difficulty in trying to do the right thing in a world where moral compasses are so far out of whack – Majumdar’s distaste for militant Islam is apparent, but so is his empathy for those driven into its arms. There is a great sense of the fraught, claustrophobic edginess of trying to do something as normal as attending football practice in what is, effectively, an occupied territory locked in an endless, almost absurd cycle of civil strife.
There’s a bigger and more powerful drama in here: when it’s good, it’s good and when it’s muddled it still makes a pretty overwhelming case for Kashmir’s peaceful secession from India.
By Andrzej Lukowski