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The Husbands, Soho Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

The Husbands, Soho Theatre

The Husbands, Soho Theatre

Jealousy and love intertwine in a play about a woman's right to choose

'The Husbands': Rhik Samadder as Sem and Mark Theodore as OmarRobert Day

The Husbands is set in a feminist utopia – or so it appears at first glance. Shaktipur, the place the characters call home, is a rural matriarchal community in which women are leaders and may take multiple husbands to address the demographic imbalance between the genders caused by the killing and abandoning of girl-children in other parts of Indian society.

Their belief system is structured around giving women choices, and they prize baby girls as a sign that their goddess is pleased with them.

At an individual level, though, this system is not quite so straightforward. The action of the play concerns one particular household, in which a community leader called Aya is preparing for her wedding. It just so happens to be her fourth wedding, and her two living husbands are doing most of the preparations – role reversal is very much in evidence as the two men sweep, chop and cook all day. As much as they outwardly purport to cleave to their community's ideals, there is tension evident as they discuss what the arrival of a new husband will mean for their home and their relations with their wife.

Syreeta Kumar as Aya and Phillip Edgerly as Jerome in The HusbandsFor Aya is ambitious. She participates enthusiastically in household rituals and pronounces the name "Shaktipur" with suitable reverence, but she also has aspirations beyond its boundaries. She is a pioneer of innovative agricultural techniques, and travels the world to speak at conferences about her work. Her new husband is from Mumbai, bringing with him the possibility of expanding her philosophies into the city and thereby changing the lives of many more women who risk violence or slavery in forced marriages.

The two husbands, Sem and Omar, carry this show with all the action revolving around them. Rhik Samadder and Mark Theodore do a superb job of differentiating the distinct kinds of love each holds for their shared wife. When an outsider, in the form of a Professor Edwards whom Aya has met at various conferences, arrives uninvited for the wedding, they bury any hint of dissent and present a united front against his intrusion. Played with just the right amount of posh British bluster by Phillip Edgerley (pictured, above right, with Syreeta Kumar as Aya), Edwards' arrival forces the revelations that bring the drama to its climax. That said, the movement sequences that accompany the play's crucial moments are somewhat awkward and unnecessary, distracting from the pace of the plot.

she is superbly passionate, and manages to indicate the darker side of Shaktipur's beliefs

As Aya, Syreeta Kumar is rather let down by the script. Much of the exposition falls to her, and she has some very stilted lines to deliver that can detract from her performance, as when she describes morning sickness as "acid regurgitation of my dreams". But she is superbly passionate, and manages to indicate the darker side of Shaktipur's beliefs while not undermining the seriousness with which they are held.

At heart, this is a play about equality. Just reversing the imbalance between the genders – as this community does by placing women in roles of authority – is not enough. The focus on female fertility (not unlike that in the west, the play hints) destroys all but the illusion of women's choice. While society still regards successful motherhood to be integral to successful womanhood, women are not free. Aya fears that if she has a child, the beginning of the new life will be the death of her own ambitions and desires. The play does not have a satisfactory answer for her, and if we're honest, nor do we.

The Husbands is at Soho Theatre until March 23.


At heart, this is a play about equality


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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