Writer: Jabine Chaudri
Director: Janet Steel
Reviewer: Christopher Hong
The old Westminster magistrate court above Browns Restaurant in Covent Garden is an ideal location to set this play by Jabine Chaudri, half of which is a courtroom drama. The other half is a domestic family crisis for barrister’s daughter, Parveen. While having to deal with a case of assault in the courtroom, Parveen also has to decide what to do with her mentally ill mother. The theme of the play surrounds the cultural conflicts faced by Muslim Pakistanis in Western society, highlighting issues such as arranged marriages, family attachment, religion and career.
Its structure intersperses courtroom scenes with seamless shifts to domestic scenes reflecting the home and work struggles of Parveen. There is a buildup of crises in both court and home which leads to Parveen’s mother attending the trial. Her presence puts Parveen’s career in jeopardy although it does produce some comical moments. There is no clear resolution to all the strands of the story in the end, the intent being to let the audience decide.
The main problem with the play is it lacks real bite and insight: the issues are all thrown into the air but not dissected and analysed in any depth. There is a sense of drama but the question is whether the audience care enough about the characters to continue thinking about them after the show has ended. The direction by Janet Steel handles the chopping and changing of scenes well but leaves it feeling a little disruptive in one or two instances.
Steel also does a great job in gradually increasing the intensity of the drama. However, at one point there is a slightly wrong turn in atmosphere which suddenly lends an unintentional farce-like quality to it but that was a momentary lapse in an otherwise assured handling of the play. It is certainly useful to use the venue for the courtroom scenes, but it works less well with the domestic side of the play – a slight downside is the lack of additional lighting other than the original and occasionally the court furniture gets in the way.
Goldy Notay as Parveen was excellent in a demanding rôle while at once an articulate barrister, demure in front of her ex-lover and struggling and conflicted with her family. The rest of the cast also performed well especially Sakuntala Ramanee as the mentally ill mother, Aysha.
This production by Kali Theatre, which specialises in promoting women writers from South Asian background, in association here with Soho Theatre, there is enough in terms of drama and performance to entertain. But it lacks real penetration of the issues raised and it has the potential to be a lot more provocative.