Political, educative and ruthlessly harrowing, the latest offering from the Olivier Award-winning Jerwood Theatre Upstairs brings to light the turbulent situation in Kashmir and the inability of both sides to escape its relentless violence.
Set against the backdrop of the Kashmir dispute, The Djinns Of Eidgah centres on Bilal and Ashrafi, two siblings orphaned by the on-going conflict around them. While Ashrafi is undergoing therapy after witnessing the brutal death of her father, Bilal, her sole guardian, focuses on his footballing talents in the hope of fleeing the war by signing for an international side at the forthcoming soccer trials.
Leading the powerful cast, Danny Ashok is compelling as Bilal, whose fierce determination to seek a better life for his sister leads him to clash with his unsympathetic team mates, who resent him for spending his evenings cradling her in his arms rather than pelting stones at the opposition.
He receives strong support from Aysha Kala as the haunted young girl scarred by the brutal memories of her childhood, who seeks refuge in a fantastical world of djinns (spirits) in order to cut herself off from the truth, and Vincent Ebrahim, who exudes wisdom as her psychiatrist Dr Baig as he strives to heal her wounds despite being unable to cope with his own following the death of his militant son.
Painting a captivating portrait of the other side are Paul Bazely and Jaz Deol as Indian soldiers sent to incite fear within the Kashmiri community, who ultimately gain empathy from the audience as they face being killed by their own people through neglect and starvation.
Director Richard Twyman, who previously staged the play in Mumbai, draws a surprising amount of comedy as well as tragedy from Abhishek Majumdar’s script with comic goal celebrations, amusing exchanges between the soldiers and an imaginary game of football providing a welcome relief from the otherwise stifling and depressing mood absorbing the Royal Court’s intimate auditorium.
Tom Scutt’s minimal set and Natasha Chivers’ at times non-existent lighting combined with Majumdar’s brutal dialogue leaves it up to the audience to visualise many of the atrocities, with one of the play’s most disturbing moments coming when the siblings stumble through dead bodies, severed limbs and pitch darkness in an attempt to retrieve a pair of football boots for Bilal to wear the following day.
Despite the dense subject matter, you don’t need a vast knowledge of Kashmir to understand the play, as Twyman’s immaculate production with its faultless performances provides an enlightening, albeit distressing, image of the impacts on both sides of the dispute.