Mary Woodward Review

The Funeral Director Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

The Funeral Director

**** (4 stars)

Another emotionally intense offering from the Trav, this time from Papatango Theatre Company who present a new play by Iran Qureshi which examines the effects of religious and cultural values on decisions made in moments of extreme pressure.

Ayesha inherited her mother’s funeral parlour when her mum died in a car crash.  She now runs it with her husband Zeyd, the man her mum intended she should marry.  At first all seems well between Ayesha and Zeyd – they seem to have a perfect, loving relationship –  but there are problems – business is slack despite the current flu epidemic, and while he wants kids, she doesn’t, and they don’t seem to have sex very often, if at all.

The shop buzzer sounds, and Tom, a very distressed young white man, comes in, wanting to arrange a Muslim funeral for his ‘friend’.  Zeyd is compassionate, especially when it seems as though Tom’s friend’s death might have been accidental suicide but Ayesha suddenly announces that they can’t help him because they are too busy, and advises him to go to the other, non-Muslim, funeral director in town.  There’s something very wrong in the atmosphere, and Ayesha’s attempted explanations to Zeyd don’t ring true.

Ayesha goes to the local hospital to collect someone’s body for their funeral and bumps into an old school friend, Janey, whom she’s not seen for years.  Janey’s mum is in hospital following an accident in the garden – Janey left home years ago, lives in London and is now a barrister.  The conversation seems awkward – is there some sort of history there?  Janey is obviously keen to see Ayesha again, and Ayesha is curiously unwilling.  An unexpected consequence of Ayesha’s refusal to arrange Tom’s boyfriend’s funeral brings the two girls together and their past begins to be revealed…

Deeply convincing portraits from Aryana Ramkhalawon and Assad Zaman as Ayesha and Zeyd gave me insights into a culture of which I know shamingly little while also reminding me that the desire to ‘do right’ and its subsequent heartbreak is not a monopoly of western culture. Francesca Zoutewelle‘s Janey slowly revealed the broken heart underneath her reserved, slightly brittle and sort-of-smiling façade and Tom [Edward Stone], stunned and broken in grief, angrily rejected Ayesha’s attempts to make amends and only relaxed as he talked about his partner Ahad’s love for Bollywood films and his firm belief in the loving Allah who would not reject him – finally forcing Ayesha to confront the truth she’s been hiding from herself all her life.

The Funeral Director invites us to consider our attitudes towards death, funerals, relationships, religion, and the whole LGBTQI can of worms.  Why couldn’t I give it five stars? It’s a very good play, with some deeply-moving moments: but sometimes it felt that it was written to preach a message – and everything turned out so conveniently for Ayesha.  I also felt uncomfortable, that all the time I was a spectator, helplessly observing the pain and suffering of four people.  Much of what was said tonight reminded me of almost identical views I’ve heard, and had directed at me personally, from so-called christians… but for many in the audience it might have been new.  Certainly the applause was loud and long.

The Travers Theatre in a co production with English Touring Theatre presents: The Funeral Director Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – Run Ended

Review by Mary Woodward

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