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‘The Cord’ – new fathers also struggle

‘The Cord’ – new fathers also struggle

We know new mothers have myriad pressures with a new child but what about everyone else in the family? Great joy, yes but what if some are feeling overwhelmed…

HAVING a baby is a stressful time as everyone knows and forms the base of the drama contained with the play, ‘The Cord’ by Bijan Sheibani.

Now playing at The Bush (until May 25), it is centred around the new baby, a mother (Eileen O’Higgins), a father (Irfan Shamji) and the father’s mother (Lucy Black).

This is an intense and difficult drama – not a lot actually happens, (SPOILER ALERT) though the father inadvertently neglects his child in the heat of the moment – as can easily happen, if you ‘are not on it’, as you need to be with a baby who is totally dependent on others. It comes in the latter half of the play which is an 80 minute run through.

Ash (Shamji) appears well attuned to mother and child at the beginning but slowly over time the pressures of fatherhood and beyond… begin to tell. He and his wife row a lot and more as time goes on.

The issue at the heart of all this is essentially mental health – as a society the understanding of post natal depression has improved – it is no longer a thing – or it shouldn’t be. It does feel like Sheibani is making something of a case for new dads now too.

While Ash could be Ashley – it could also be Ashwin – the actor Shamji has South Asian ethncity but it isn’t clear whether he is in a mixed race relationship or not. His wife or partner is white – this doesn’t matter at one level, you can read what you want or don’t want into it – the subject of race or the racial dynamics are never raised.

Ash’s mother is played by a white actor and while there is reference to her husband and Ash’s dad, we neither see nor hear anything of him. He has an unusual silence, except in relaying the odd thing to his son by phone and delivered only as reported speech by Ash.

Where Sheibani is strong is in the Ash’s mother character (Black) and her own mental situation – it is intimated that she has challenges in this area and it is quite clearly conveyed that these are serious and possibly suicidal.

Also further in her background is the idea that she had post natal depression at the time of givng birth to Ash himself.

This is not clearly delineated but there is more than a hint of it.

This fragility does not inspire confidence – Christmas plans are changed, because there is a new baby and the mother’s parents are keen to have the new family over, while Ash’s mother has to contend with something routine, almost quotodian on the day itself – which seems barely believable to Ash and has him worrying.

All this is not helping on top of the sleepless nights, the pressures at work – we don’t know what Ash does for a living – and the concerns about his mother and the very obvious pressures on his wife/partner as a new mother.

There is also an increasing distance from his wife who now sees her mother in law and husband in the same bracket – untrustworthy, delicate and a bit confused about everything.

With evocative cello music and an imaginary baby, there is much still to admire about the sensitive and considered approach – but there isn’t enough backstory on any of these characters to really feel and care about them in that way.

Shamji is very assured, as are all the actors but they aren’t working with enough, we feel; and in the end your symapthy is almost solely with the mother – and she is almost not likeable for the way she only thinks about herself a lot of the time.

Both mother in law and son are struggling and don’t seem to appreciate what impact it might be having on the other or the baby who might be able to perceive such distance – especially in her father.

Male emotions in the early part of fatherhood are a difficult subject because there isn’t the same language for it as there is with new mothers, and therefore it is harder to approach the subject – the vocabulary is either non existent or very nascent or necessary…?

And the question then has to be how many new fathers take their own lives? Sadly we almost instinctively know the answer to the question we should all ask before this one.
Acv rating: ** 1/2 (out of five)

Main picture: Mother of child-Anya (Eileen O’Higgins), Father-Ash (Irfan Shamji), background – Mum (Lucy Black) and cellist Colin Alexander (pic: ©ManuelHarlan)

The Cord written and directed by Beijan Shebani, on till May 25 at The Bush Theatre,
7 Uxbridge Rd, London W12 8LJ, UK.

More info/tickets: here

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture