Review: Piece of Silk

Piece of Silk

The Hope Theatre, Islington

There is often found today a wildly misguided attitude towards the classics: if it’s a classic, you don’t mess with it. In truth, a classic is something which appeals to universal values and timeless questions; its central ideas continue to resonate in whatever new context into which they are transplanted. Misapprehensions of the correct treatment of classics are blown out of the water by Jennie Buckman’s new play, Piece of Silk, which is inspired by The Arabian Nights. Whilst in the programme the misogyny of the original tales and the echoes of that in male-generated domestic violence are given pride of place in terms of themes, what this tautly written and directed piece reveals to its audience is far more.

The narrative premise is this: Shaz and Dunya live in London with their mum. Their father died the year before and in light of this their half-brother, Sami, whom they’ve never met before, comes to stay. As mum is sent away on holiday, a cycle of misunderstandings, internal wrestlings, and cultural conflicts emerge, culminating in violence and an almost psychotic exercise of control. The drama is introduced and narrated by Billy, Shaz’s best friend. What is remarkable about this play is that within this relatively straightforward set-up, there are interwoven all those anxieties and prejudices that make up modern life: racism, sexism, blame cultures, conflicting cultural identities, sexual insecurity, desperation to meet the expectations of a father’s ghost, and modesty against liberty. It takes clever writing, directing, and acting to make this work – not because it is unrealistic, but because conscious attempts to convey this level of sub-text and complexity in life and relationships often cause the writer and/or actor to founder. Buckman has a true understanding of subtext and human interaction, unsurprising given her background with RADA.

All of this would be redundant, however, if there was not the skill in performance and direction by Tania Azevedo to bring this out. Stellar performances are given across the cast. Tanya Vital is the beating, defiant heart of the piece, resilient to continually fight and provoke, but not to the point of becoming a ‘superwoman’ and therefore a fantasy figure unrecognisable to the audience. Based on the legendary queen Shahrazad (also known as Scheherazade) who is the storyteller of The Arabian Nights, she utilises the social media of the day to send out her stories to her followers, stories which expose both the misogynistic prejudice of attitudes in the original tales and subconsciously the escalating fear and violence in her own home. The use of video media in this play is for once not a gimmick – justified and apt, it breaks down the conception of an audience by aligning us with those diagetic spectators viewing her vlogs within her own world. It is a subtle performance with the layers of insecurity, revolt, and questioning constantly fluctuating beneath the surface bravado.

Alongside her, Jack Bence as Billy is a very able counterfoil; a genuine and street-wise Londoner and more a part of the family than the half-brother, he allows us access to this family, and is both more knowledgeable about them and more in the dark about their situation than the audience. Excellent support is given by the rest of the cast, describing fully fleshed characters, who are instantly recognisable. That I left with a sense of pity and horror relating to Devesh Kishore can only be a compliment to his performance!

This is not a perfect piece; there are a couple of directorial choices I question, but to name them would be nit-picking in the extreme. What it is, then, is a fascinating drama which is technically and academically thought-provoking due to its multiplicity of narrative framings; it is a superbly acted piece which leaves you on a high, with a visceral sense of horror, shock, and relief; it is also intensely real, with laughs amongst the shock, and characters who can recognise but not solve their situations. Go see it now.

(c) Becky Moore 2016

Piece of Silk
The Hope Theatre
14 June - 2 July
Tues to Sat. No shows Sun & Mon.
Twitter: @TheHopeTheatre
Facebook: /thehopetheatre
Twitter: @giants_theatre

See Female Arts interview with playwright Jennie Buckman:

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