The Djinns of Eidgah at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
Director Richard Twyman and designer Tom Scutt collaborate with discreet elegance in their transformation of the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court. There is clever use of silky fabric to create what seems to be a memory in the first scene and a tunnel in the second act. Set in Kashmir, The Djinns of Eidgah opens up to the audience a dense text and heavy subject matter: the characters discuss their individual relationships with Islam and the emotional affect it has on their communities, friendships and families and, unfortunately, the occasional political radicalisation.
The play is a Royal Court debut for Abhishek Majumdar, who writes with passionate description and powerful imagery. Some parts are pure poetry, allowing the actors’ storytelling to excel. Dr Wani (Ayesha Dharker) has a phenomenal speech about freedom that is rooted and scores: “It’s human instinct. To be free. Even birth, Dr Baig, is an act of freedom… Freedom Baig Sahib, is perhaps larger than reason”. Unfortunately with such a weighty subject and a running time of two hours (and 20 minutes including the interval), it is difficult to maintain the focus of the crowd.
The play’s poetic arguments are engaging, and pace is kept consistent yet its tone – in voice, atmosphere and intention – remains the same from the beginning. The fate of Bilal (Danny Ashok) could have occurred in the second scene and the impact would have been the same as when it happened in Act Two. However, Ashok brings a sincere vulnerability to Bilal that is endearing and plays beautifully with his traumatised young sister Ashrafi (Aysha Kala) whose journey is the most dynamic and eclectic of the entire show. There are occasional shadings of light in the play, for example where Soldier 1 (Paul Bazely) and Soldier 2 (Jaz Deol) brutally banter as they struggle through their forced companionship, but these are a rarity. It would be nice to rollercoaster through some lighter, personal moments to make the tragedies of the piece (which should be harrowing at the mere thought) impact and resonate more with their audience. Sympathy does occur, but empathy needs to be spurred.
The Djinns of Eidgah is a powerful investment from the Royal Court as part of the Genesis Foundation’s International Playwrights project, and it’s certainly thought-provoking. The themes approached within the piece are being explored at the discussion series The Big Idea: Belief, which is held over the course of the show’s run.
Photos: Manuel Harlan
The Djinns of Eidgah is at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court until 9th November 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch interviews with the writer and director of The Djinns of Eidgah here: