Janet Steel, director of the controversial Behzti at Birmingham Rep (See News, 20 Dec 2004), now turns her hand to this excellent slow burner which highlights how family and religion clash with eastern values in a western world.
In the weeks after 9/11, Wembley man Mr Rizvi (Nicholas Khan) dreams of being a local councillor and will stop at nothing to get his wish. His wife (Shelley King) feels that she’s just an appendage and detests her husband’s new religion of politics. ‘Sensible’ son Salim (Damian Asher) has a secret white girlfriend and a child.
But nothing’s going to tear the family apart more than the newfound ambition of younger son Babar (Marc Elliot) - he’s planning to go to Afghanistan and fight. In a heated row with his father, he declares: “You talk about telling the world how wonderful Islam is but you don’t remember yourself.”
Azma Khan’s wonderful writing is full of comic moments, rich dialogue, shattering revelations and high emotion. Khan’s script provides the gifted actors with the mettle they require to move the audience and they achieve this effortlessly.
Khan’s proud father is confused and desperate to please, even at the expense of his family’s trust. His multi-faceted performance is both funny and poignant, while King imbues the character of wife and mother with great depths of emptiness and despair. Asher and Elliot excel, too, as the changing youth up against a traditional family façade. And another special mention should go to Jamila Massey - her Aunty Moona, with her references to This Morning and ‘Dubya’ Bush, provides much comic relief.
Chaos is an enlightening and involving piece that invites the audience to question their own beliefs about the world post 9/11, without once patronising them. Many of the questions raised go unanswered - far more effective than offering pat conclusions. True, some scenes during Act Two become overblown and the acting suffers slightly as a result, but for the most part the piece is played to perfection.
On the night I attended, the audience – albeit a small one - appreciated Khan’s play immensely. But a cast this talented and writing this sharp deserve a much larger crowd. If you can catch it with the same company’s equally controversial Bells, with which it’s performed in rep, even better.
- Glenn Meads