Traverse Theare

Jinnistan

08/11/22

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.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

(Can This Be) Home

28/03/19

Writer/performer/poet Kolbrùn Björt Sigfúsdóttir fully expected her extended examination of the Brexit conundrum to have reached some kind of a resolution by now – it is after all, the night before the UK is scheduled to leave the European union – but the slow separation lumbers inexorably on, with nobody any the wiser.

Icelandic by birth, Sigfúsdöttir has lived and worked in the UK for five years now and is understandably concerned about what’s going to happen to her ability to travel and work in Europe after Brexit has changed the rules. (Can This Be) Home is essentially a series of poems about what it means to be an immigrant, though it should be said, that she’s speaking from a fairly privileged point of view, something that she really only acknowledges in her final (and most successful) poem.

Her readings are counterpointed with short pieces by musician Tom Oakes, who plays a wooden flute and a stringed instrument that, to my untutored eye, looks like a lute crossed with a guitar. Tom features a nice line in anecdotal patter and his observation that it’s hard to write a protest song when you’re an instrumentalist gets the evening’s biggest laugh. His musical influences come from all over the world, but particularly from the Scandi-regions where he has often been based – so he too is waiting for the results of Brexit with some apprehension.

While Sigfúsdöttir recites her work, Oakes immerses himself in a book, and while Oakes tootles his flute, Sigfúsdöttir models house-shaped images from what appears to be a mixture of sand and putty. This pointed ignoring of each other’s efforts is obviously intentional but I would actually like to see them combining their respective talents to create a more cohesive whole. It’s also true to say that tonight, at the Traverse Theatre, the two performers are pretty much preaching to the converted. I doubt there’s a single person in the room who actively disagrees with what they are saying.

The result is therefore a strangely muted affair. It would be very interesting to see this performed to a more partisan audience, one featuring people with an entirely different view of the Brexit situation. As it stands, this feels a little too comfortable, a little too lacking in fire and urgency.

3 stars

Philip Caveney