Review: When The Crows Visit, Kiln Theatre, Kilburn
PUBLISHED: 09:57 31 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:57 31 October 2019
© Mark Douet
A bulging sub-plot and unrestrained touches of soapy melodrama undermine a vivid window on India's gender politics - inspired by Ibsen's Ghosts
It's easy to see why Anupama Chandrasekhar found inspiration in Ibsen's Ghosts for her dark exploration of contemporary Indian family life. Ibsen's attack on 19th century values is echoed in the suffocating morality on display here.
But Ibsen kept his symbolic narrative simple. Chandrasekhar layers in a bulging sub-plot that draws on a horrific real-life event - the notorious gang rape of a student in Delhi in 2012.
Add some heady melodrama, an investigative-thriller arc and a disturbing off-stage rape, and the central theme of toxic masculinity is engulfed by the production's excessive straining for theatricality.
The story opens in an affluent Chennai home, beautifully designed by Richard Kent: high ceilings with a huge fan, paint peeling off folding slatted doors.
Surprisingly, the sparring between the key players is bracingly modern: bed-ridden matriarch Jaya [Soni Razdan] peddles endless parables but hides a mobile phone under her blankets; her caustic daughter-in-law, the widow Hema [Ayesha Dharker] and spirited young nurse Ragini [Aryana Ramkhalawon] snipe at Jaya to curb her wild imagination.
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Chandrasekhar challenges our preconceptions about old/ new India in a household peopled by living ghosts.
We switch to Mumbai and the imploding career of Hema's coddled son Akshay [Bally Gill], a computer games designer. When Akshay has a bar room argument with his boss, we expect him to rush to mummy's door.
We don't expect a detective to arrive revealing Akshay is a key suspect in the rape of a bartender.
Is Akshay guilty? Is he the product of his violent father? And will Hema be able to protect him by paying 'buttermilk' - a cash bribe?
The wave of consumerism engulfing Mumbai is plain. But ignoring the flocks of crows - the symbol of the guilt of our forefathers - that peck at Jaya's bedroom windows and defecate on their impossible neighbour [a bizarrely heightened performance by Asif Khan] proves inadvisable.
Director Indhu Rubasingham lets go of the reigns too much: showdowns between Akshay, Hema and her sister tip into soap opera.
But when the different registers align this play offers a vivid and authentic window on a world we should understand better.