The British Ambassador's Belly Dancer

Craig Murray, Nadira Murray and Alan Hescott
Arts Theatre
(2008)

Publicity photo

Nadira is young and sexy. Her skill is seduction. She is (now) the wife of the (now) ex-British ambassador to Uzbekistan. They met in a nightclub where her erotic dance was the magnet to which his inner steel was drawn.

In an 80 minutes' solo performance, Nadira unfolds her story. Her naked truth unfolds through her account and dance supported by the voiceover of Craig Murray, the former ambassador. His voice tells of his fight for human rights of the Uzbeks, and his attempts to expose horrific human rights abuses by their government. The events of 2003 and 2004 are still fresh in the minds of many attending the show.

Nadira is a determined young woman who learnt early on in life to distinguish between dry meat and wet meat. The one refers to stingy men while the latter are generous and responsive men who placed money in her skimpy attire. The British Ambassador was, of course, wet meat. He introduced himself by the $20 he stuffed into her knickers on the night she approached him after her dance. She admits with a wry laugh that she soon found that "spanking is his real weakness."

The journey takes us to the Soviet era where theatre was respected and therefore her father's position as a director and actor was dependable, though little money was paid. Vodka was the main currency. Her father would beat her because "the world beat him", she explains. At home she "lived between love and hatred". Without self-pity she tells of her attempts to commit suicide and how her little brother stopped her by offering to give her "all his dreams". She quickly learnt the route out of poverty. She can dance and wiggle her body to make men pay to watch.

Nadira is proud of her sexuality and revels in her erotic dances, but not to the exclusion of her studies. She completed her degree course in Uzbekistan but paid for improving her mind by using her body. She joined a nightclub where dance and other services provided a handsome profit. Her position exposed her to individuals in power who abused their position and her. She was sexually violated twice, once by one she thought was a good Muslim, as he was a Hajji, and once by a senior police officer. Nadira's voice is clear and effectively projects her sensuality and pains.

The importance she attributes to her virginity, though overlaboured, echoes a cultural and religious stigma attached to an unmarried woman who fails to protect it. She eventually gave it to the man she now loves and married.

In this production, Nadira sits on a chair clad in a see-through black wrapper that thinly veils the outlines of hot-pants and a studded bra befitting a nightclub. Oriental music triggers her belly dance movement. It is an inspired dance where the young female celebrates her sexuality without shame or embarrassment. Eroticism and seduction co-exist harmoniously and openly in Nadira's performance. Her openness may at times be disconcerting, yet it is engaging.

The combination of the voiceover and Nadira's story is somewhat tenuous, albeit it reminds one of Mr. Murray's Don Quixote fight against institutionalised humane rights abuse in Uzbekistan. This play is about Nadira's journey from a poor home through a nightclub to becoming the mistress of British ambassador.

After a sell-out run at the Arcola Theatre this production has benefited from additional simple yet effective setting by Carrie Southhall, and impressive lighting by Richard Howell. The total impact conjures up a fairytale atmosphere for this remarkable subjective story of the fabulous belly dancer and rescued by her gallant knight.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson