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Behud (Beyond Belief)

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
Soho Theatre
(2010)

Publicity photo

When she wrote her second play Bezhti (Dishonour), Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti can surely have had no idea of the trouble that it would cause.

As background, it is helpful to know that Bezhti (Dishonour) caused offence because of unspeakable acts perpetrated in a Sikh temple or Gurdwara.

Eventually, Birmingham Rep and the local police between them decided that the protests from the Sikh community were so vehement that it will be unsafe to allow the play to be performed.

That was at the end of 2004 and, just over five years on, Miss Bhatti presents Behud (Beyond Belief), which thank goodness, has made it to the public stage without a problem, first at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry and now at Soho.

On one level, the play is what one might expect, a reaction to the traumatic experiences that made this playwright a hate figure in her own community as well as a headline grabber, almost on the scale of Salman Rushdie. However, rather than presenting a straight documentary, this enterprising playwright has dressed the story up as a highly experimental piece of absurdist comedy, which owes more than a little to the influence of Pirandello.

For around 100 minutes, a lost soul called Tarlochan Kaur Grewal, a female playwright portrayed with great empathy by Chetna Pandya, observes a satirised version of the horrors that faced Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti.

Some of the inventions work better than others, so that a couple of keystone cops are rather too over the top for this critic's taste, while the Sikh protest committee, an increasingly frustrated artistic director played by John Hodgkinson and a politician rather too interested in votes all hit their targets more successfully.

In particular, the debates between the trio of aggrieved Sikhs tell us much about the views of the community and engender a spirited defence from the sometimes invisible playwright who, deeply symbolically, part way through loses the power to control the characters that she has created.

Some might question why this writer did not have the courage to express her opinions in a straight drama but, by the end, her tinkering with form pays off, as we get an opportunity to enter into a sometimes fevered brain. There, we can understand the need for catharsis that could only have been achieved by getting this play produced on a professional stage in front of an appreciative paying audience.

Not everything in Behud (Beyond Belief) works and some elements get a little bit too close to its title. Even so, there is enough here to make viewers understand the pain caused both to the (relatively) innocent playwright but also those whom she, presumably unwittingly, offended so deeply with the earlier play.

Philip Fisher reviewed the play text of "Bezhti (Dishonour)" in 2005

Reviewer: Philip Fisher