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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The timing of this UK premiere of Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced is eerily apposite in light of yesterday's events in Woolwich.

The play, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama earlier this year, is a meditation on the undercurrents of racial and religious tension that continue to riddle the West in the wake of 9/11.

Its central protagonist is Amir (Hari Dhillon), a hotshot New York attorney whose Muslim heritage (his parents are from Pakistan) is causing tension with the Jewish partners at his firm.

In the opening exchanges, Amir is painted by his attractive artist wife Emily (Kirsty Bushell), who has a particular fascination with Islamic culture. She feels he shouldn't be ashamed of his background, but it's clear he's been conservative with the truth at work, telling his bosses he's from India on the grounds it still was when his father was born.

The centrepiece scene is a dinner party at their plush apartment attended by Amir's colleague and rival for partnership Jory (Sara Powell) and her husband Isaac (Nigel Whitmey), who also happens to be a big shot in the art world with a particular interest in Emily.

It doesn't take long for tensions to bubble to the surface and Akhtar scripts a near-perfect four-way conflict. "We are the new Jews," pronounces Amir early on, setting the mood for an exchange that soon gets deeply ugly.

Isaac needles Amir, comparing his pose in Emily's portrait of him in his Charvet shirt to that of Velazquez's "brilliant apprentice slave in his lace collar". Amir retaliates with comments about Israel and soon Jory, who is black, also finds herself in the cross-hairs.

Nobody emerges unscathed, and when the heated words boil over into violence, it's deeply visceral, devastatingly effective, and shockingly believable.

Nadia Fall's production does not win on all fronts. The sightlines are frankly appalling; every time the characters sat down I struggled to see them, which is a serious problem in a play containing a dinner party. And some of the details of the settings and costumes feel rather clumsily thought-through (Amir's shirt couldn't have cost 60 dollars, never mind 600).

But the performances - particularly of Dhillon and Bushell - are pitch-perfect, with not a dodgy 'New Yoik' accent in sight. And the coda, involving Amir's nephew 'Abe' (Danny Ashok), who has been newly radicalised having been stopped by the FBI in Starbucks, provides a stark reminder of the real disgrace - that these conflicts have been handed down the generations.

All in all a highly recommended and thought-provoking evening that could well provide the Bush's artistic director Madani Younis with his first West End transfer. Here's hoping anyway.


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