Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Jinnistan, directed by Niloo-Far Khan, is the last of this season’s PPP productions, and – in a break with the norm – it’s in the ‘big theatre’, aka Traverse One. This seems fitting, as the play’s parameters are bigger than normal too, encompassing not just the world as we know it, but the spirit realm as well. The Jinnistan of the title co-exists with Pakistan – but relations are strained, to say the least.
Malik (Taqi Nazeer, who also wrote the script) moved from Scotland to Pakistan a year ago. His wife, Layla (Avita Jay), and teenage daughter, Asiya (Iman Akhtar), have followed him there. Asiya’s not happy, and neither is Malik. She wanted to stay at home with her pals. and he – well, he isn’t saying. I guess it isn’t easy to tell your family that it’s your destiny to be a genie-fighter, and that there are annual rituals you need to perform in order to save lives.
This is essentially a low-fi horror, and all the genre’s tropes are in evidence here. Spooky graveyard? Check. Family secret? Check. Wayward teenage girl possessed by an evil spirit? Check. Nazeer keeps things fresh by transposing the action to a different culture, seamlessly blending Arabic and English to give a clear sense of place. The setting is enhanced by special effects, which – though obviously constrained by budget – are serviceable enough, conveying a feeling of unease.
Akhtar delivers an impressive performance, imbuing Ayisa with a convincing mix of swagger and insecurity. The sound design (by Niroshini Thambar) is also excellent: the jinn’s voice truly seems to emanate from somewhere beyond the here and now.
I do have some quibbles: the script is a little uneven, for example, and there are jarring moments of humour that undermine the building tension, so that – ultimately – the stakes are never really raised. The recorded voices, though well-delivered, are over-used: all too often, I find myself listening to a block of exposition, while looking at a blank or static stage.
Nonetheless, Jinnistan is an entertaining piece of lunchtime theatre, and a fitting end to this round of PPP’s lunchtime offerings.