The Husbands (Theatre Royal, Plymouth)

”The Husbands”, now at The Drum, Plymouth is thought-provoking, if slightly over long, and an ultimately poignant piece of theatre.

Rehearsals for The Husbands - Kali Theatre and Pentabus Theatre
Rehearsals for The Husbands – Kali Theatre and Pentabus Theatre
© Robert Workman

Asian New Writer Award nominee Sharmila Chauhan‘s The Husbands is an interesting concept engagingly executed in a Kali Theatre Co, created to promote South Asian women writers, and Shropshire farm-based rural-focused Pentabus Theatre collaboration.

It is Aya’s wedding day. Her husbands Sem and Omar are preparing the feast for the evening’s celebrations, at ease in their enforced relationship and seemingly accepting of a third ‘brother’.

The lamb has been nurtured and is ready for loving sacrifice, the trousseau is on the way, the spices are cooked and flower garlands threaded.

Aya’s dream of catapulting her female-centric cult from the middle of nowhere to Mumbai is about to be realised.

Syreeta Kumar is superb as the self-assured but ultimately vulnerable visionary, strong and sexy, desperately juggling selfish desires and common good. Beautifully believable.

Rhik Samadder is nicely understated as sweet, philosophical Sem, dedicated and eager to please as a counterpoint to the gentle giant Omar (a convincing Mark Theodore) who struggles with change and betrayal.

Aya’s successful leadership of the isolated community is illustrated by the gaggles of female offspring playing in the surprisingly abundant farmland and the sun reliably shining good fortune on the festival day. And her latest marriage will secure recognition and more publicly challenge a society where girls are a burden requiring a dowry to be rid of them should abortion or infanticide fail.

Into this domestic scene stumbles recently divorced agricultural professor Jerome (Philip Edgerley) and aslowly the very foundations of the ethos of the village are shaken and threaten to crumble.

Cleverly calling into question many orthodox beliefs – whether that be the value of male children in India or a Western society which ‘believes in equality but punishes women for it’; that the greatest female achievement is pregnancy or that the collective good is always superior – The Husbands is nothing if not thought-provoking.

Janet Steel tightly directs the slightly over-long piece – attention starts to wane towards the end of the second hour – but Shobna Gulati‘s beautifully choreographed sari-building scene recaptures the connection for a poignant conclusion.

– Karen Bussell