Kiln Theatre, London – until 30 November 2019
Anupama Chandrasekhar’s tense and searching new play When the Crows Visit is a theatrical response to the 2012 Delhi gang rape of a young woman on a bus. These men walk among us, protected by the very society they are undermining; how does that happen?
The peeling back of the layers begins in Chennai, in a house full of women where duty and honour is more important than virtue or truth. The incontinent grandmother is throwing her used nappies onto the verandah to humiliate her nurse. The stiff-backed mother prowls the rooms angrily like a hunting cat. Co-dependency has been thrust upon them by the constrictions of the extended family system. There is malignancy in the air. When Akshay, the son of the family, returns unexpectedly saying he’s lost his job, the play starts to take shape.
We learn that a girl in the bar where he was drinking that day was savagely gang-raped on her way home. Akshay is a suspect. Suddenly, When the Crows Visit comes to life. Under questioning, he turns on his mother: she made him, she raised him, she even got him work as a games developer. If he is a rapist – and we don’t yet know if he is – that too is down to her.
The themes in When the Crows Visit are not just Indian themes. They play to important global concerns – misogyny, #MeToo, gaslighting. Men are men until they err, and then it’s the victims who are blamed. Are women totally blameless in this, or do we collude with the perpetrators against our own sex?
Sadly, for what is a nuanced and often beautiful piece of writing, in this production by Indhu Rubasingham, the content is treated as part farce, part melodrama. Everyone shouts, everyone flounces – only Ayesha Dharker as the mother keeps her character understated and under control. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other terrific performances – there are. They just don’t make sense.
Asif Khan as the police inspector is a Clouseau manqué, deliberately strangling his words with wicked elegance and making us laugh. It’s brilliant, but comedic lapses sit uncomfortably with the subject matter, particularly in scenes where he is demanding bribes to cover up Akshay’s alleged actions.
Another irritation is six different versions of the Indian accent on stage. Lorca is not performed in Spanglish, or Feydeau in Franglais, or Ibsen – given that Chandrasekhar has based her play on his classic, Ghosts – in Danish staccato. We use accents where English is the language of the region in which it is set – USA/Caribbean/NZ. What is the argument for it here?
There are moments of great tension in the second half ofWhen the Crows Visit. It would be great to have that same attention to mood and detail through the whole production.
When the Crows Visit runs from 23 October to 30 November 2019 at the Kiln Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7JR, with performances Mondays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets are priced £10-£32.50. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!