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‘When the Crows Visit’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 2 out of 5 stars
  1. Photograph: Mark Douet
    Photograph: Mark Douet

    Ayesha Dharker (Hema), Bally Gill (Akshay)

  2. Photograph: Mark Douet
    Photograph: Mark Douet

    Asif Khan (Gopi), Ayesha Dharker (Hema), Soni Razdan (Jaya)

  3. Photograph: Mark Douet
    Photograph: Mark Douet

    Ayesha Dharker (Hema) 

  4. Photograph: Mark Douet
    Photograph: Mark Douet

    Ayesha Dharker (Hema), Asif Khan (Inspector)

  5. Photograph: Mark Douet
    Photograph: Mark Douet

    Ayesha Dharker (Hema), Soni Razdan (Jaya)

  6. Photograph: Mark Douet
    Photograph: Mark Douet

    Soni Razdan (Jaya)

  7. Photograph: Mark Douet
    Photograph: Mark Douet

    Soni Razdan (Jaya), Bally Gill (Akshay) 

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Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

This response to the 2012 Delhi bus gang rape by way of Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ is uneven and insensitive

‘When the Crows Visit’ is Anupama Chandrasekhar’s response to Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ and – based on the graphic and sickening details of injuries sustained by a woman in the play – the 2012 Delhi bus gang rape. If you think that might be a big reveal to start with, consider this: some people might not want to come to a play described as a ‘dark thriller’ about a ‘violent crime’ and listen to ten minutes of audible offstage rape.

Chandrasekhar’s intention is honourable. Based in Chennai, India, her plays often focuses on the violence done to women under the patriarchy, particularly in her home country; ‘When the Crows Visit’ must be born out of a desire to face the horror of systemic abuse head on, challenging the audience to question their role as bystanders and spectators. But its execution is cruelly unsubtle, turning domestic violence, rape and gang rape into set pieces around which a crime procedural plot pivots.

‘Ghosts’, Ibsen’s play about the inherited and cyclical nature of oppression, is transposed to modern-day India. His long-suffering widow Mrs Alving has become Hema (Ayesha Dharker), who lives with her ageing mother-in-law in the beautiful house she inherited from her abusive husband. (Richard Kent’s design for the house is gorgeous, a narrative in itself.)

Vulnerable, smart and haughty, Hema dotes on her son Akshay (Bally Gill), a failing games developer, who flies home from Mumbai abruptly one evening, abandoning his job. Coincidentally, a girl in Mumbai was gang-raped that same night. Did Akshay do it? And, if he did it, how will his mother choose to react, given her own past?

Tonally, Indhu Rubasingham’s production is all over the place. There are characters and conversations created entirely for laughs in – I can’t emphasise this enough – a play responding to a rape-murder so brutal it sparked international outrage. Hema’s sister, portrayed as a sympathetic, fun character, appears in a single scene to bizarrely victim-blame Hema. Akshay changes personality two-thirds of the way through. Most of the dialogue is bellowed. There needs to be a rigorous, passionate, intelligent artistic response to patriarchal violence, but this is wide of the mark.

Written by
Ka Bradley

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