It’s already completed successful runs in Chicago and New York, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, but how would Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced fare when it received its UK premiere at the Bush theatre?
Set in the luxury Upper East Side apartment of Amir and Emily Kapoor, Disgraced focuses on the married couple – Amir, a lawyer working in mergers and acquisitions; Emily, an emerging artist dabbling in Islamic motifs – as they seek to progress their careers. Going against his professional capabilities and beliefs, Amir agrees to defend an imam at his nephew and wife’s wish, but when the couple invites Amir’s colleague Jory and Jewish art gallery curator Isaac over for dinner, the corporate lawyer realises that he has more than just his professional life to worry about.
The pivotal moment comes when dinner time conversation, which sees the characters at the heart of Akhtar’s debut play draw on themes of faith, politics and racial discrimination, turns sour and provokes Amir, a man who chose to change his name in order to hide his Pakistani heritage, to bring his controversial views to the table.
While Hari Dhillon’s dominant and assertive performance as the high-flying lawyer also serves to provide an insight into the way in which Muslim men are perceived in Western society and the stigma surrounding their ethnicity, empathy for his character is scarce as he reveals that the anti-semitic beliefs instilled in him by his mother have remained at the fore of his attitudes.
Kirsty Bushell and Nigel Whitmey give convincing performances as Emily and Isaac, both victims of Amir’s vicious nature, who – on top of the characters’ religious and political revelations – expose their own hidden secret, while Sara Powell brings a touch of light-hearted humour to an otherwise fraught atmosphere as food-lover Jory who puts a stop to her husband’s arrogant boasts with honest and sarcastic remarks, correcting Isaac’s pronunciations with examples from South Park.
Nadia Fall’s fast-paced direction makes for an action packed evening, with the fractured transitions between scenes – as James Whiteside’s lighting flickers and fades – effectively serving to illustrate the broken connections that gradually emerge between the characters.
Littered with surprises for both the characters and the audience, Disgraced is simply compelling to watch, exploring brave and rousing themes with organic dialogue and witty discussions that balance the downright shocking with amusing one-liners.