Like a rooster with chickens, the lead character in Sharmila Chauhan’s new play lords it over several spouses. But here, in a move that flips our prejudices about polygamy, it’s the wife who gets more than one husband.
‘The Husbands’ is set in a fictional commune in modern India where, in contrast to the rest of the country, the female of the species is the jewel. Aya, who has risen to become a powerful and respected mouthpiece of the organisation, has two husbands and is about to marry a third. Chauhan playfully inverts the assumed power struggles in a polyandrous society and pitches Shaktipur as a progressive place, that supports the freedom of women.
This is a satisfyingly intriguing premise and Chauhan’s writing builds up this odd situation so that our perspectives are constant shifting. But when a stranger enters the world, the drama really begins. In the second half the problems with this perceived utopia come thick and fast.
Syreeta Kumar as Aya has a constant broad smile that aptly feels more forced as time goes on, while Rhik Samadder and Mark Theodore, the two men in her life, provide strong support. The overall message gets a little jumbled though, with all the heightened drama, and the second half could do with some serious slimming. Despite Janet Steel’s simple, effective staging, which is bathed in warm colours and heady smells, when things start to go wrong it all gets too murky to see exactly why.
It’s a pity that the piece doesn’t manage to engage fully with the ideas it starts off with, as this play has the beginnings of something arrestingly unique.