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Disgraced, Bush Theatre

Ayad Akhtar 
Directed by Nadia Fall 

Pros: Brilliant performances. Explosive, intelligent and gripping to watch.

Cons: Starts out a little too abstract and intellectual; the set-up–a dinner party between four people of four different ethnic and religious backgrounds—feels a little contrived.

Our Verdict: A must-see! Disturbing, sharp, important. Stays with you long after you leave the theatre.

Courtesy of timeout.com

Disgraced starts with Amir (Hari Dhillon) standing in his swanky New York apartment, with no pants on, being painted by his artist wife Emily (Kirsty Bushell). She wants to recreate Velázquez’s portrait of Juan de Pareja, a mulatto slave. Emily says that the idea came to her after an episode in which Amir was the victim of casual racism.

This sets the tone for the rest of the play. Amir is a high-flying corporate lawyer, who has rejected his Muslim background and gone to pains to conceal his Pakistani originals (we later discover, going so far as to change his name from Abdullah to Kapoor). Emily is his attractive wife, who uses Islamic motifs in her art. At the start of the play, Emily is the Islamist; Amir, the American.

But things start to unravel. Emily convinces Amir to defend an unjustly accused imam, which leads him to be misrepresented by the press and discriminated against by his Jewish bosses. Emily is hoping to get her work into an exhibition curated by Isaac (Nigel Whitmey), a New York anti-Zionist and liberal Jew. She invites him for dinner with his African-American wife Jory (Sara Powell), who also happens to be Amir’s colleague at the law firm.

The dinner party starts out as a discussion about Islam, art, culture and religion among four people of very different backgrounds but seemingly bound by their American liberal values. Although interesting, this part of the play was pretty abstract and intellectual. But the tension rapidly mounted, with undercurrents pulsating beneath every exchange, and before long the audience was gasping aloud.

As a drama about contemporary ‘issues’, with a slightly contrived set-up, this play might have become didactic, but it didn’t. I was completely gripped. Serious and relevant topics were tackled but always through the characters. I believed Amir. He is a complex character who you understand, pity and abhor in equal measure; his behavior felt real and uncompromising. Amir refutes his origins, yet is unable to root out certain feelings, which, in being repressed, reveal themselves in appalling ways. The height of the drama comes when he admits in an angry explosion that he experienced a touch of pride at seeing 9/11. The outburst felt real, confessional, weirdly relatable and oh so confusing.

By the end of the play, the issues of identity, cultural belonging, and religious belief have collided into a huge, upsetting mess, and none of the characters’ stances make sense any more. Disgraced offers no answers, no message. It just presents you with people and their dilemmas, and resonates as horrendously relevant to our times.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below! 

Disgraced runs at the Bush Theatre until 29th June 2013. 
Box Office: 020 8743 5050 or book online at

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