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Tariq,Robert Mountford and Farah, Goldy Notay. Picture: Robert Day

The Dishonoured

Coventry Belgrade B2

***

KALI Theatre has been producing serious, energised, worthwhile theatre for so long now - more than two decades - that one feels like a spoilsport to call into question the merits of their latest offering - The Dishonoured, scripted by another of their talented female writers, Aamina Ahmad.

So let’s start with what worked. Set in Lahore, the story focuses on Tariq (Robert Mountford), a young colonel in the Pakistan Army, his (quite well-drawn) relations with his wife and his superior, and the dilemma into which he is thrown when a young girl ‘perhaps just 14’ - there is even a whisper of 12 - is raped and killed.

Everything, as far as Tariq is concerned, points to a member of the CIA, who are making free with their role in Pakistan, unafraid to use blackmail as a weapon.

One passage that really worked came near to the end of Act I, when there is a blistering row between Tariq, his commander Brigadier Chaudhry (Neil D’Souza) and the local CIA commander or resident - protecting the rapist and killer - Lowe (David Michaels).

D’Souza is a splendid speaker and a pretty fair performer; and his onstage presence had a lot to do with the impact: with what worked. However, plotwise the problem is that he inclines to back the CIA against his own man; and if he inclines to Tariq’s side he is soon forced to switch by the threat of America ratting on an agreed aeroplane deal.

Michaels plays Lowe as a snaky figure (as Chaudhry says in an aside, ‘’I’ll tell you, they’ll do anything, they’re snakes’). He has no qualms in playing every card to ensure a cover up. Tariq comes good in this tussle: all three ensure this moral stance is a major moment in the play.

The other high moment is near the end. The murdered girl’s sister, Gulzar (Maya Saroya) enters unexpectedly and treats us to an extraordinary outpouring - partly a soliloquy - which captures the pain and the anguish and the appallingness of it all. Saroya’s outburst worked wonders. It is partly the script, but more the way she works on the role that made this the best piece of acting in the whole evening.

The other main credit goes to Jai Channa’s music: with lots of stirring touches, not least from various and varied woodwind and some inventive work for keyboard, this did a lot to keep the show on the road.

Now for the reservations: I felt the set (Anthony Lamble) was feeble, and despite bed, seating etc the opportunities for varying where characters were located were next to nil. The earnest set moves served no purpose. As for the cast, as a consequence, too much standing around. The costumes - the men anyway - lacked all flair. The delightful wife, Farah (Goldy Notay), and even the small roles (Captain, etc.) played by Zaqi Ismail conveyed well enough; but Michaels’ Lowe was frankly lacklustre, the character not undefined but pretty thinly defined, except where he comes alive at the trio. Mountford’s Tariq, try though he might - and he certainly conveyed decency and some determination - was like a huge gap in the production. His stances - hands on hips, hands in pockets: how many times we saw that, and how Director Janet Steel let him get away with that, I cannot imagine.

Would it be unfair to say I was bored? Maybe. But they tried, and as far as I was concerned, they failed. To 07-05-16

Roderic Dunnett

04-05-16 

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