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When the Crows Visit

". . .and all the sins of his father and his forefathers came out of his body, through the pores of his skin, in the form of crows."
— Jaya
When the Crows Visit
Ayesha Dharker as Hema
(Photo: Mark Douet)
There have been some terrible news stories coming out of India about women and girls raped and wounded by gangs of men. Anupama Chandrasekhar's play concentrates on the responsibility of families and women in those families who allow their men, their husbands and sons, to escape punishment. The perpetuation of patrimony, men in charge, continues in modern day India despite having had women in the top position of political power.

Anupama Chandrasekhar's play opens with the grandmother Jaya (Soni Razdan) bedridden and an invalid being cared for in her daughter in law's home by the servant Ragini (Aryanas Ramkhalawon). The old lady is a difficult patient and has stolen someone else's phone so she can phone her grandson Akshay (Bally Gill) a dozen times although she has been told he is in an important work meeting.

Akshay is a computer games developer and is in a meeting in Mumbai with David his brother in law (Paul G Raymond) the boss and a brilliant new recruit, a woman, Uma (Mariam Haque). A review for one of Akshay's games said "it was like watching ants sleep."

A neighbour Gopi (Asif Khan) complains about the crows depositing bird droppings on his new car and that the old woman is encouraging this by feeding them. Jaya tells a story about Sita and Rama and the villain who turned into a crow. Crows are also considered ancestors in Hinduism and during a festival, Sraddha the practice of offering food or pinda to crows is still observed. Jaya is still very involved with thoughts of her dead husband and son and her fostering of the crows is a part of that mourning. In the play the shadows of flying crows and their cawing is used to rake up mystery and commotion.

Hema (Ayesha Dharker) argues with her mother in law Jaya and underlying this unhappiness we can see the grandmother's denial of her son's abuse. A ghost tells us what may be the reason for Jaya's present infirmity. Akshay arrives suddenly from Mumbai causing consternation. A visit by the local police inspector (Asif Khan) about an incident in Mumbai causes more concern and Hema has her own way of defending her family from outsiders. This behaviour is so deeply ingrained that it is passing from generation to generation with some of the victims accepting it.

The problem is the women who have so little self esteem that they dare not stand out to speak against violence in the family, nor do they want to expose their precious sons to harm.

Richard Kent's spacious Chennai house, pillared set is painted in dark green with windows in series along the back wall with sounds and lighting to cue the birds. The Ringhams' sound conjures up the crows and Matt Hutchinson's shadow puppetry is entirely realistic.

Indhu Rubasingham is a very skilled director and we feel for these characters imprisoned in the menacing past. Ayesha Dharker is particularly strong as the widowed mother torn between defending her son and the unthinkable, even if it means accusing someone else who is innocent.

I like the crows that swagger across the local common and next time I see them I shall be thinking of their part in Hindu tradition. I appreciate no easy answers being applied in this play to this age old problem of women having little or no power or worse, as enablers for abuse by their men, their sons. Is the abuse in the genes or the violent computer games Akshay played as a child?

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When the Crows Visit
Written by Anupama Chandrasekhar
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham
Starring: Ayesha Dharker, Bally Gill, Soni Razdan, Marian Haque, Paul G Raymond, Asif Khan, Aryana Ramkhalawon
Design: Richard Kent
Lighting Design: Oliver Fenwick
Composer and Sound Design: Ben and Max Ringham
Shadow Puppetry: Matt Hutchinson
Movement Director: Diane Alison Mitchell
Fight Director: RC Annie Ltd
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7328 1000
Booking to 30th November 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 25th October 2019 evening performance at the Kiln Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7JR (Tube: Kilburn/Brondesbury)
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