Kiln Theatre, London – until 30 November 2019
Anupama Chandrasekhar’s chilling play examines what happens when a cycle of violence and those who stand by and watch it happen is passed down through the generations.
Taking a chillingly dark look at what toxic masculinity can look like at its very worst, with some inspiration perhaps drawn from the horrific story of the 2012 Delhi gang rape, When the Crows Visit brilliantly highlights how its not only those who commit the crime but also those who stand aside and watch it happen who have to face the consequences.
In this case widow Hema, is fiercely protective of her son game designer Akshay eager and somewhat innocent. But when a horrific gang rape is committed, Hema is forced to confront what she really knows and understands about her seemingly innocent son as well her own past with her violent husband. It is a play with many deep layers that are beautifully unfolded in Indhu Rubasingham’s atmospheric and tightly woven production.
Challenging ideas with regards to patriarchy and toxic masculinity, When the Crows Visit sharply reveals how ideas such as tradition can actually blind people to the characters of those closest to them and in turn keep history repeating itself. This is particularly highlighted through Hema’s tense relationship with her own mother-in-law who was blind to how her son treated Hema, but Hema is equally blind to what Akshay is truly like until the final horrific moments in the play that brings it all home of just how much power women really have.
As the story unfolds, Rubasingham’s production intensifies slowly, allowing the audience to really see how each of the characters (particularly Hema and Akshay) change, exposing the hidden parts of themselves to make it even more compelling to watch. There are moments when the production seems to rely on expressing anger too much that it can make less of an impact than intended – particularly when Hema visits her sister that could have been handled a bit more gently rather than being confrontational.
Yet, the production does successfully convey the fact that all the female characters are strong and on the surface have sense of power and control, ultimately it is still the men with whom the real power lies – captured to brilliant if extremely dark effect in the final scene that is brilliantly framed by Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design and Oliver Fenwick’s lighting design.
The performances throughout are sharp and refined. In particular, to see Bally Gill’s transformation of Akshay from the beloved son of the family to a cold, calculating and manipulative character is brilliantly portrayed. In contrast, Ayesha Dharker as Hema is a strong force to be reckoned with, whose growing horror in the part that she had to play in this whole situation becomes increasingly clear – as highlighted in the confrontation she has with Akshay – a particularly powerful moment. It is a controlled but no less mesmerising performance that highlights the struggle that she faces as a mother and as a woman. There is also great support from Soni Razdan as Jaya and Aryana Ramkhalawon as Ragini.
There is no denying that this a difficult play to watch unfold – but it is also an important one that has been effectively brought to life in this gripping production by Indhu Rubasingham.
By Emma Clarendon
When the Crows Visit continues to play at the Kiln Theatre until the 30th November.