The Corpus Playroom is no stranger to the brave and the new in theatre. But on Thursday night, as it hosted Our Lady Of Lahore, it was pleasantly surprised yet again, and left yearning for more South Asian authors. Thanks goodness, then, that Our Lady of Lahore will run for two more days.
Strip it down to the basics, and most viewers will identify this is a story of ambition – or to use a colloquial, but out-dated and wrongly-located term, the fable of the ‘American Dream’. One girl, Husna, longs for a better life than the one she’s born into. As we’re told her story, we see the highly stratified life of Pakistani Society: the rich elite, the narrow middle, and those who serve. We feel the intense inequality and feelings of superiority or inferiority that you inherit depending on which class you belong in.
“I honestly never thought I’d ever see a salwar kameez or a Nehru jacket on the Cambridge circuit”
The packaging of this story is pretty neat too, and indeed, is what sets it apart from other plays so far this year. Most action takes place around a sturdy but plain looking bench and a diwan at the back of the room, replete with its long cylindrical cushions. There’s even a working sewing machine (a staple in households of the time) and it intermittently buzzes between dialogues. I honestly never thought I’d ever see a salwar kameez or a Nehru jacket on the Cambridge circuit; never believed in my wildest imaginations that a ghazal would be played on stage. But here they are, and oh what a scene they create when they come together!
I must add here, that while it’s just cosy enough for the Corpus stage, how exciting it would have been to see the set fill the ADC, where they could have had more room to get even more of Lahore onto the theatre. That, for me, would have made a largely faultless play even better.
For most of the actors involved, this is their first time on a Cambridge stage. I mention this only because it’s something you absolutely couldn’t tell by watching the play. The nuance the actors bring to the roles captures the society they wish to portray with even more clarity.
Acclaim must be bestowed onto Maria Khan, the director and producer, for putting on this innovative play and (hopefully) opening the floodgates for more South Asian dramatists and stories in Cambridge. There still remains hope, then, that next year could see Manto, a Mahesh Dattani script, or even a production of a Tagore piece come to Cambridge’s stage. I mean, Shakespeare’s fun – but there’s only so many times you can go over the conundrum of whether you should or shouldn’t be. Our Lady Of Lahore, at least, very much deserves to be exactly where it is: delighting audiences for two more nights at the Corpus Playroom
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