Mark Douet

Anupama Chandrasekhar’s new play, based on themes lifted from Ibsen’s Ghosts, has premiered at the Kiln Theatre, directed by Indhu Rubasingham.

We’re rapidly becoming firm fans of the Kiln Theatre – it’s a great space which has hosted some of the best theatre we’ve had the privilege of reviewing this year. While When The Crows Visit may not quite reach the same high standard we’ve come to expect, it remains an intriguing and compelling piece of theatre. The dark narrative is loosely based on Ibsen’s Ghosts – we encounter a widow who was clearly in an unhappy marriage, and her son who has inherited something far more sinister than just the family wealth from his abusive father.

The play is now set in modern-day India, where the son in question, Akshay (Bally Gill) designs games for smartphones but is on the brink of losing his job following a number of recent flops. After the late-night meeting during which the news of his possible sacking is broken to him, he flees Mumbai, returning to the family home in Chennai. Coincidentally – or not – there has been a violent rape attack on a young woman that very same evening. Is Akshay responsible? And if so, how will his mother react, in the knowledge that he may have inherited his violent ways from his father?

Tonally the play is a bit all over the place. Early scenes are lighthearted and quite entertaining, which contrast a bit too sharply with the violent story arc as it progresses. While the play, like Ibsen’s original text, explores the controlling nature of the patriarchy and the cyclical nature of abuse, it still seems a bit off that Akshay is allowed to tell his side of the story. As the chief suspect he is given airtime to portray himself as charismatic, kind, intelligent and funny, while we barely even learn the victim’s name.

The play does on occasion rely a bit too much on shock value, too. The initial rape scene is described in gruesome detail, while a subsequent off-stage sexual attack rather overstays its welcome – it makes for extremely uncomfortable, borderline distressing, viewing. Far more effective is a scene in which Akshay has stayed up late for the family’s young nurse Ragini (Aryana Ramkhalawon) to return from the cinema. There’s a sense of peril here, a foreboding that something awful is about to happen; nothing actually does, but the danger that something might is far more powerful than the overt violence elsewhere.

It’s a shame that the tone misses the mark, as there are some otherwise very strong elements to this production. The acting performances are pretty impressive and, as we’ve come to expect from the Kiln, the production values are really top notch. The set looks great; coupled with some smart lighting and sound design, this has resulted in an extremely atmospheric staging. It’s disappointing that we found some of the aspects of the play so unpleasant to watch – if it resorted less to shock value, with the violence more implicit than explicit, we’d have enjoyed it an awful lot more.

GAY TIMES gives When The Crows Visit ★★★☆☆

More information can be found here.