Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Black Album.

To the National to see The Black Album directed by Tara Arts Jatinder Verma adapted from Hanif Kureshi's novel set in London during the Iranian fatwa imposed on Salman Rushdie after the publication his The Satanic Verses in 1989. Sadly, the direction was all too obvious and rather disappointing.

When the book was originally published in 1995 it worked as a parody on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and hinted at the political tension between liberal laissez faire and fanatical religiosity. The metaphor of Prince's 'black' album - which had no song titles, cover image or textual description - suggested that something unfamiliar, conceptual and beyond definable reason was beginning, even twenty years ago, to take shape in immigrant communities.

Kureshi picked up on the sense that for second and third generation of British Asians there was a genuine dilemma between integration into a secular Western society and protecting perceived tradition. British theatre met this tension head on in 2004 when the Birmingham Rep were forced to cancel their production of Behzti after the police could not guarantee audience safety in the face of an offended militant Sikh protest.

In the final moment of Kureshi's play Hatz, the youngest member of the comic gang of radicalised Pakistanis, and an observer for much of the action, is absolved and passed a rucksack -presumably loaded with explosives. It seems trite, convenient and lazy to employ this convention. Children will listen may be the message, but I'm not sure our understanding of extremism is greatly enhanced by being reminded of this in such a simplistic and unexplored image.

Perhaps the burning of Rushdie's book was the thin edge of the wedge, but to selectively claim, as this production does, with the benefit of hindsight, the direct link between the fatwa and the bomb blasts of 07/07, is to ignore the intensity of the intellectual, and often rational, debates about multi culturalism, anti-racism and immigration that have filled the intervening years. The discussion is vital, which is why this felt like a missed opportunity.

No comments: