The Theatreguide.London Review
2004 the Birmingham Repertory Theatre put on Behzti, a play by British
Sikh playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti that so offended the local Sikh
community that there were protests and violent demonstrations.
fear for the
safety of its workers and audiences, the theatre cancelled the run of
the show. It was not the Birmingham Rep's finest hour.
Bhatti has written a new play, Behud ('Beyond Belief') offering her
partly imaginary version of the events.
her view the
offending play itself very quickly became irrelevant as everyone
involved - the luvvie theatre director, an oily local politician, a
'responsible' Sikh community leader, a more radical activist, a yellow
journalist, some bumbling cops, even the playwright herself - followed
their own agendas, each using this battle to position themselves better
for the next battle or career move to come along.
argument, presented with a mix of outrage and bemused satire, and one
is willing to overlook the special pleading that makes the playwright
an innocent and generally irrelevant bystander to events. (This play
mentions, but doesn't dwell on the fact that the protesters had offered
a compromise - moving one scene out of a Sikh temple into a community
centre - that Bhatti refused even to consider.)
As well as telling her version of the story, Bhatti turns this play into metatheatre, a play about the writing of itself. The onstage playwright composes scenes and watches as they play out, interrupting, cancelling and rewriting as she changes her mind, creating the comedy of actors having to back up and replay a moment or change personalities in mid-scene as she revises.
play she's inventing before our eyes takes on a life of its own, as the
characters begin refusing to follow her rewrites and she finds herself
part of a plot she isn't controlling.
overlay might occasionally be a bit too clever (and a little too proud
of its cleverness) for its own good - I think we could have lived
without the comic cops - but it does serve as an effective metaphor for
the way the real life events developed their own momentum that nobody
Director Lisa Goldman juggles the play's several tones and levels of reality effectively while creating some evocative stage images, and Chetna Pandya holds our emotional identification and sympathy as she takes the playwright character through her Alice-in-Wonderland journey.
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Behud - Soho 2010