The Bush, Studio (venue)
06 December 2019 (released)
09 December 2019
‘Home is not where you live, it’s where they understand you’ says Haseeb in a moment of philosophical reflection with his girlfriend, Ella. He’s a poet from North London, she’s an actor from Yorkshire. She drinks, he doesn’t, she celebrates Christmas in the countryside, he fasts and celebrates Eid in the city. There’s no doubt they love each other and, in a society, where inter-racial relationships are accepted on the surface, the difficulties they face are subtle at first.
Zia Ahmed’s sharply observed play slowly ramps up the pressure on the couple as the elephant in the room begins to grow. To clarify, this is not just a metaphor, but an actual elephant called Andre, who begins life as a tiny toy Ella kept after an obsession with India during a primary school project and grows into a huge beast they have to care for, eventually squeezing them out of their home. As families and friends become involved unconscious prejudices begin to surface and Haseeb’s internal battle to be true to himself yet be good to Ella threaten to overwhelm him.
Emily Stott and Ragevan Vasan give energetic and layered performances with plenty of humour and physicality to characterise the delight of first love between twenty somethings. Humour is equally powerfully employed to make serious points about the ‘unbearable whiteness’ of race and culture; ‘How do you get an all-white room in Peckham? Put on a theatre night.’ The actors don’t pause for the 1hr 20mins straight through, switching effortlessly between direct address where they narrate their story and intimate dialogue.
There are many fresh touches to the production but one of the most unexpected is the interpretation of the unassuming claim that, ‘The show is fully BSL integrated.’ That is an under-statement. It’s rare to such a creative integration of signing with a physical and emotional performance from Rachael Merry who becomes a third player in the production. She takes on multiple roles not only as translator, but inhabiting various silent characters in the cast, commenting on the action as if she were another member of the audience and physically representing the emotional world of the drama. A truly bold and imaginative approach to BSL integration in a play that feels truly of our time.