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Posts Tagged ‘Iqbal Khan’

The premiere of this Ayub Khan Din’s play was twenty-five years ago, and it’s set 25 years before that. It was his first play, at least partly based on his own life experiences. In a programme Q&A he suggests in might not have been put on today because of the sensitivities about ‘what we write about ourselves and what people write about us’. That would have been a tragedy, as in this new production by Iqbal Khan it proves to be a timeless reflection on, and illumination of, the British Asian experience. It’s also very funny.

George came to the UK from Pakistan in 1936. He married British native Ella and they have seven children. One is estranged after refusing an arranged marriage, but the other six are still at home, helping out in the family business, a fish & chip shop in Salford. He tries to impose his Muslim traditions but they rebel; they were born and brought up in the UK. One seems to be loyal, another respectful but questioning and three clear rebels. The youngest is lost in his own world, yet to form his views.

The primary issues are circumcision, somewhat late, for youngest Sajit and arranged marriages for Abdul & Tariq to Mr Shah’s daughters. George is determined to exercise what he sees as his rightful authority as their father, but the sons (egged on by their feisty sister Meenah) are resolute that they are British not Pakistani and that these traditions have no place here. A culture clash that perhaps many British Asians experience between the world in which they’ve been brought up and the traditions that their parents brought here with them. George does himself no favours by the way he treats his wife, and her knowledge that there is another wife back in Pakistan. Apart from the 70’s clothes and decor, it could be today.

One of the key’s to the success of this revival is the superb ensemble, banishing memories of the two productions I’ve seen before. Tony Jayawardena and Sophie Stanton are both superb at conveying the cultural tensions George & Ella have to live with, but also the love they have for one another and their children. The six siblings are all terrific at conveying the whole spectrum of loyalty / rebelliousness, and Rachel Lumberg is wonderful as family friend Auntie Annie – she gets some of the best lines, including the play’s best joke, commenting on the gifts Sajit gets after his circumcision.

A great production of what now seems to be a modern classic.

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With this third play (in the order I’m seeing them), the RSC’s Romans season comes alive. In my view, that’s down to a period staging, an excellent design and a set of fine performances. Not a mobile phone in sight! My luck with this play continues.

For someone who’s only directed a handful of Shakespeare plays, I thought Iqbal Khan’s staging was masterly. He gets so much right – the passionate relationship at it’s core, the ruthless ambition of Octavius, the dignity of the Egyptian women and the essence of the conflicts. After being critical of Robert Innes Hopkins designs for Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus, here he delivers a beautiful, classical setting with wonderful costumes. There’s even a superb score by favourite Laura Mvula.

I’ve seen some great pairings in the titular roles – Anthony Hopkins & Judi Dench, Alan Rickman & Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart & Harriet Walter, Paul Sheeley & Mark Rylance (!) – and Anthony Byrne & Josette Simon are a match for any of them; intelligent, passionate, nuanced performances. They have a fine supporting cast, many of whom have been in the other plays. In particular, Andrew Woodall is exceptional as Enobarbus and Ben Allen’s characterisation of Octavius is outstanding.

In one of those connections I’m fond of, this play begins shortly after the end of the Imperium plays (which I saw nine days before in Stratford), and though there’s 400 years between their authorship, it almost feels like a sequel.

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I vividly remember being at the UK premiere of this play 16 years ago. At the end, lead actor Henry Goodman pointed to a man a few rows behind me and the audience rose to its feet to give Arthur Miller a standing ovation.

Not everyone agreed (nothing new there, then) but I thought it was his best play in the 40 years since a row of four classics – All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible & A View From A Bridge – between 1947 and 1955. We’ve seen a lot of these four since, but not Broken Glass. The National hosted the UK premiere, but again it’s a fringe venue – the Tricycle – that gives us a second look.

Set in 1938 in New York, Sylvia Gellburg is mysteriously paralysed. The initial diagnosis is hysterical paralysis, a reaction to events in Nazi Germany, but as the play unfolds the relationship with, and behaviour of, her husband comes into the frame. She abandoned her business career, her sex life is unfulfilled, her husband possesses her.

Phillip Gellburg is one of the most complex characters Miller wrote – proud to be ‘the only Jew’ in his company with his son heading to be ‘the only Jew’ army General in a way that is distancing himself, even denying, his heritage. At the same time, he sees anti-Semitism when it might not even be there and is racked with feelings of inadequacy, persecution and inferiority complexes and paranoia.

Anthony Sher is mesmerizing, he IS Phillip Gellburg, and as the play unfolds his character becomes more exposed and develops emotional depth. Sylvia Gellberg is a tough role, changing significantly between the first and second acts. Playing a little older than her age, Lucy Cohu really pulls it off. The third key character, Dr Harry Hyman, who is fascinated by the case and attracted to his patient, sees Nigel Lindsay cast against type and more than a match for Sher and Cohu. These are fine performances indeed.

I’m not very familiar with director Iqbal Khan’s work, but I’ll make sure I am in the future, for this is a very intelligent production, deeply moving but without descending into sentimentality. Mike Britton has designed an impressionistic space which allows the drama to breath and the onstage cello playing of Laura Moody maintains the tension between scenes.

This play was followed by two disappointing late works – Mr Peter’s Connections and Resurrection Blues – and a third play, Finishing the Picture, which we haven’t seen here. Looking back now, it is clear that it was the last great work of a giant of theatre and seeing it again was as thrilling as seeing it for the first time.

Yet another triumph for the regularly triumphant and completely indispensable Tricycle!

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