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The Dishonoured (Arcola Theatre)

Kali Theatre's new show is a political thriller based in Lahore

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

For her first full length play, Aamina Ahmad isn't pulling any punches. She's written a spy-war thriller set against the backdrop of a tense and troubled US-Pakistan relationship. Diving headlong into that notoriously murky world, The Dishonoured is dark, taut and very complicated. It also would probably have been better on screen than on stage.

Don't get me wrong: on stage it's perfectly watchable and, at times, it will have you on the edge of your seat. But Ahmad just crams too much into her plot and doesn't give the crux points enough breathing space. On film it could be distilled into something a la Bridge of Spies, on stage it feels a little clunky.

But this tale of decorated soldier Tariq, who managed to assassinate a rebel leader during a raid in which he lost a lot of his men, still has its moments. Back in Lahore, he is a hero and, much to the chagrin of his artist wife who desperately wants him to get a cushy desk job in Washington, steps away from the front line to take a role with the secret service.

When a young prostitute is killed in the city in mysterious circumstances by a CIA operative, Tariq must deal with the double and triple crossings of both sides. He is out of his depth and no match for the CIA, who manage to twist the arms of both him and his wife. Tariq's honour and career is at stake and to keep them intact, there's a price to pay. Several innocent human lives are ultimately deemed collateral damage in the negotiations between the two countries.

Ahmad makes a strong, clear case in The Dishonoured that amidst the political machinations, each country loses perspective on what really matters: the lives of its citizens. The dialogue is generally strong and there's a good cast performing it in Kali's production directed by Janet Steel. Robert Mountford as Tariq is great, offering a real sense of this soldier's war-torn mind and his increasing inability to control the situation. Goldy Notay is also strong as Tariq's wayward, frustrated artist wife. There's also a convincing turn from David Michaels as the Janus-headed CIA man Lowe.

Steel builds the tension well in this production and the climactic moment of the play, where Tariq sacrifices his humanity for the sake of his country, is a shocking, upsetting scene which leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

The Dishonoured (Still Life) runs at the Arcola Theatre until 2 April and then tours.