Theatre Review: TERROR - a play by Raminder Kaur, directed by Mukul Ahmed

A  Moment of Reckoning – Your Life or your Friends’?

reviewed by Avani Devi

Based on real-life events of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Bangladesh’s capital, Terror was a dramatic yet intimate, striking yet stifling theatre play for its emotional impact. The event in July 2016 shocked the nation and beyond, not least because it was in Dhaka’s most elite and international district, and led by perpetrators from similar backgrounds. While the insurgents held customers and staff captive, the play held the audience captive. Produced by Sohaya Visions and Mukul and Ghetto Tigers in Pinter Studio, it was a drama that deeply impressed me when I went to see it on Friday November 8th in East London.

The five actors played a number of roles with conviction, swiftly switching between terrorist and victim as if to say that there’s a fine line between the two. The infectious humour through the friendship of the young man, Faraaz Ayaz Hossian (Diljohn Singh), out with his two friends during the month of Ramadan was refreshing. One was an Indian Hindu, Tarishi (Subhaluxmi Mukherji), the other an American Muslim, Abinta (Shivani Sethia). This was contrasted with the obsessive and often psychotic humour of the men that stormed the café while the friends were having a reunion.

In the Q&A session, writer Raminder Kaur talked about how she had researched news reports to find out as much about the people involved in the incident as she could. But there was not much on their characters apart from commentary on Faraaz’ bravery and the radicalisation of the attackers. As a Bangladeshi Muslim, Faraaz was given the chance to leave the café but he chose to stay, to be with his friends. This incident remained central to the play. The rest was imagined with a tenacious grip on real-life incidents.

 was not just an eye-opening performance but also a fully engaging experience. Famed for his work on Basement Jaxx’ Where’s your Head at?  and George Michael’s track, Monkey, among various film and TV credits, Roddy Matthews musical compositions blended seductively with Erica Greenshields’ evocative set design. The scenes were mainly based in the café that switched to a hot storage room with flower bags and yeast where workers were hiding on the first floor, unable to leave as the insurgents had unwittingly locked them in.

The struggle to breathe led the three men to get possessive even over the oxygen. They suffered, prayed, slept and suffocated to the point that Mohammad pleaded with the ghost of his deceased mother to take him with her. ‘Don’t be so cruel!’ he pleaded when she responded ‘It’s not your time’. This was exquisitely conveyed by a director’s sleight of hand by Mukul Ahmed – when the actors lovingly glide towards each other but ultimately miss the mark.

The Mother moved between rooms, effortlessly and ethereally coming to her two sons (both played by Rez Kabir). Her younger son, Miraj, was tied to IED explosives as a human shield downstairs. The irony was that he was supposed to be the timid brother but he wanted to live, while his older brother locked in the storage room caved in to the desire to die.

This death wish radically contrasted with the lead insurgent, Don, played by Dave Kukadia. He wanted to die to seek justice, and a more peaceful world where there is no torture of soul, of people, of Muslims as happens in Palestine and Guantanamo Bay. But his sense of justice was not the one that Faraaz believed in and they clashed over the Koran, Faraaz accusing Don of interpreting it ‘wrongly’ and ‘perversely’, and imploring him to release not just him, but everyone.

Lighting by Paul Micah added to the heightened tensions of the hostage situation with occasional use of torchlights. The terror hit a peak when Don turned to the audience shouting commands, asking uncomfortable questions, and putting the spotlight on us as if we were next. 

The ambiguous ending that had a touch of magic realism left me thinking and guessing. People’s experiences in the Bakery were tragic – about 30 Bangladeshis, Japanese, Italians, Indians and Americans lost their lives. The fact that one second you could be out chatting, teasing each other, imagining and planning future lives, and then in the blink of an eye, guns are whipped out so as you’re forced to crawl like mice under the tables was a little to close to the bone. This was a modern horror experience comparable to The Women in Black.

On the main themes, there was a good balance of views and interpretations but in the end it was courage and friendship that stood out. The play came with the launch of a new award to develop a new script with the two companies. Fittingly called Rise Against Fanaticism Through the Arts (#RAFTA) in Faraaz’ memory, the award with a £1,000 development prize encourages others to write original and imaginative scripts that tackle fanaticism, extremism and xenophobia across the board At a time where right wing populism and radicalisation is on the rise across the board – whether it be Islamic, white nationalist, or other religious and ethnic extremisms - there is no better time to encourage others to rise too.


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