My Name Is...

Sudha Bhuchar
Tamasha Theatre
Arcola Theatre
to

When there is no curtain to hide it before the show starts, the set may tell you quite a lot about a play: not just where and when it is happening but perhaps what it is about.

Designer Miriam Nabarro provides this play with a raised tile floor with, on one side, a comfy, leather-look sofa with a cat-decorated mug set down beside it; an elegant chair with a footstool, chic teapot, cup and a bottle of Coke with a straw on the other. Scattered on the floor and some of the furniture are newspaper cuttings. The gauzy curtains that screen the day-lit windows have a montage of faded newspaper articles printed on them.

The furniture doesn’t quite fit together so it is not surprising to discover that they represent two very different places, one on a Scottish island the other in Pakistan, but it is the newspaper cuttings that are, of course, the main clue.

My Name is…, which gets its première here before a national tour, has its origins in a real life case of a Glasgow-born girl whom certain news reports asserted had been kidnapped and carried off to face a forced marriage by her fundamentalist Pakistani father.

The girl denied this story and, when, months later, playwright Sudha Bhuchar saw an article in Guardian Weekend that explored things deeper, her interest was roused and she made contact and interviewed both parents and the girl herself.

At first, Bhuchar’s idea was to use these interviews and workshops with actors to develop a fictional drama inspired by the research, but that was scrapped as a distortion. My Name is… is actually a verbatim piece constructed directly from what those interviews. All the dialogue is taken directly from those individual interviews except for a few additions that are taken from statements quoted in the media.

She does a marvellous job in weaving these three voices into a conversation across continents. Sometimes, they are separate voices; sometimes, the separate recollections of past events interact; sometimes they overlap, beautifully timed by director Philip Osmond so that both voices are comprehended.

Separate recollection at a distance becomes intimate joint re-enactment. Occasional words and phrases are in Urdu but, apart from a couple of comic moments that brought laughs from Urdu speakers, that did not affect understanding.

This play takes no sides. It is a fascinating study of coping with cultural difference and the problems of adapting to the codes of a new faith. It tells a love story that goes wrong.

The result is engaging and moving, packing a great deal into 80 minutes with no interval. It is it beautifully played by Umar Ahmed as Pakistani father Farhan, Karen Bartke as Glaswegian Suzy who becomes Sajida and Kiran Sonia Sawar as their daughter Ghazala / Gaby.

These are not the names of the factual family, although every word is theirs. In their performances the actors are creating characters that grow from the text, not living portraits, but the life that they give to them seems entirely authentic.

Howard Loxton