March 23 2016
An adeptly constructed play examines what it means to be allies in the fight against global terrorism…
MOST people instinctively know where they stand on ‘the war on terror’ and in the wake of horrors inflicted on Brussels, that seems obvious.
Many politicians, especially on the political Right in the US, make it a simple – and simplistic – equation, an ‘us’ and them’.
What a striking debut play like Aamina Ahmad’s “The Dishonoured” – produced by Kali Theatre Company and currently on the Arcola Theatre in Hackney, London, before it goes on a UK tour – shows is that really it can never be that simple.
What is hugely impressive is the way she explores US and Pakistani interpretations on ‘the war of terror’; each side defining it in their own world vision, which of course, is not the same and while their interests may coincide at certain pragmatic points, it’s hard to see who is actually benefitting from such a war, when both sides have quite different agendas essentially.
Speaking last week as her play opened in London, she told www.asianculturevulture.com: “Here you are fighting this war and at what point do you resemble the people you are fighting?
“The play is looking at the characters’ journey and how far do you go and how much is driven by a real need to fight the war and how much is driven by other agendas – and ones you don’t really know.”
It’s very easy to see matters in black and white – especially after a terror attack such as in Brussels or Paris, but it’s just that not simple or straightforward to eradicate terrorism, even if you are fighting what you believe to be a very clear ‘war on terror’.
“You’re often told, ‘write what you know’ as a new writer,” she explained, “but I write what ‘you want to know’ and explore the geo-political dimensions.
“The process of writing a play is about questions,” she stressed. “It’s very much my understanding and about the things that interest me.”
In “The Dishonoured” it’s too simple and facile and incorrect to see the Pakistanis as the good guys in this play and the Americans as the evil ones or vice-versa.
Sometimes their interests coincide – but more revealingly and more powerfully is what happens when they don’t, Ahmad skilfully suggests… then everything breaks loose and it makes for excellent drama.
“It’s not a defence of anything,” she asserted to counter the idea that it might be trying to redraw a western media narrative that has the Americans as the good guys and the Pakistanis as the bad ones.
“I am critiquing and looking at the business of the state and how it conducts its affairs,” she affirmed.
Talking before www.asianculturevulture.com had seen the play, that becomes more obvious after it.
“It’s about the human cost of the war on terror. It’s critical of everybody in the so called ‘war on terror’.”
Ahmad explores the gaps with great skill and empathy and produces a mostly taut drama where its various characters representing different points along the war on terror, shift and slide.
Her idea, that it is some sort of deadly game comes through strongly, especially when you think there is almost a predictable sequence of events in the wake of a terror attack such as there was in Brussels on March 22.
Inevitably, there are calls for the authorities in the West to get tough and clamp down not just on those suspected of holding extremist ideas, but on the wider Muslim community which is as innocent and as vulnerable as anyone else.
“Whatever this game is being played of ‘spycraft’ there are very few winners, it’s a zero sum game,” said Ahmad.
This is a sophisticated debut play and perhaps this is well illustrated by Ahmad’s writing background and her own development.
The play took four years to appear in its current form – along the way Ahmad worked with the Royal Court on a different play, workshopped this with the National Theatre and more or less reworked it following its first ever reading at a Kali Talkback in 2012.
She has been living in the US for these last 10 years and is now a Stegner Fellow at the University of Stanford in California and working on a novel as part of the fellowship. She graduated with an MA in TV drama and directing from Goldsmiths, University of London and worked as a script editor in the UK on dramas such as “Eastenders” and “Hustle” before marrying and setting up home in America.
She is also the daughter of Kali Theatre co-founder Rukshana Ahmad, a playwright too, and credits her mother as being one of the biggest influences on her writing and the development of the play.
‘The Dishonoured‘ plays until April 2 at Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin St, London E8 3DL Tel: 020 7503 1646 or http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/the-dishonoured/2016-03-15/
Then on tour: Plymouth, Birmingham, Coventry until May 7. See details and info for those HERE
READ THE REVIEW
IN AAMINA AHMAD’S play, “The Dishonoured” her characters are involving and drawn with the complexity such a piece and our current history demands.
Colonel Tariq (Robert Mountford) is a much decorated soldier in Pakistan and his most recent operation against a slightly mysterious ‘Mullah Hamid’ has gone so well (with his elimination) that the young army officer is in line for a serious promotion.
The idea of a diplomatic posting in Washington, as some form of military attaché, thrills his arty wife Farah (Goldy Notay) who waxes lyrical about the art galleries and the lifestyle the couple and their young sons will enjoy there. She herself is a creative artist but her family background is somewhat chequered and it does have a bearing on Colonel Tariq and his choices.
Tariq himself is not so taken by Washington and his eventual promotion to the crack ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) is something of leitmotif for the deeper and wider rift between husband and wife. Another drama within the larger geo-political one.
In Tariq’s meteoric ascent you will meet Brigadier Chaudhry (Neil D’Souza) his boss; and the US CIA operative Lowe (David Michaels) his sometime friend, sometime foe, who also briefly trained with him at Fort Benning (elite Pakistani troops receive training in the US); and Shaida and Gulzar (both played by Maya Saroya).
You will also hear the beautiful poetry of celebrated Urdu scribe Faiz Ahmad Faiz from poor Shaida, an underage lady of the night, around whose unfortunate fate these characters will swirl and agitate.
A very slightly baggy opening gives way to something very absorbing and involving and from there on in, it rarely lets up and throws a lot into the mix, including an extra-marital affair.
The acting is strong and supple and even in Lowe, a super Michaels, in this context, is not all bad and can elicit empathy.
Like a thriller, it’s hard to see what way Col. Tariq will turn and Ahmad’s skill is to keep you guessing and doing the same intellectual arithmetic – but not really accepting it.
In the end, what price compromise and pragmatism on a purely selfish level, and what sacrifice do you make for your nation and your ideals?
Watch Ahmad, if this is her first play, there’s much to be excited about in her story-telling.
ACV rating:**** (out of five)
Review picture: Lowe (David Michaels), Colonel Tariq (Robert Mountford) and Brigadier Chaudhry (Neil D’Souza)