dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
A family reunion goes awry
A long-held family feud comes back into the present in this taut drama by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti which premieres at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Two sisters, Deesh and Vira, have not seen each other in years and when they come together for a party organised by Deesh and her husband Barry sparks fly.
Deesh (Yasmin Wilde) is a nervous mum of two disgruntled youths – Amy (Raagni Sharma) who is off to New York on an internship and has no regrets about leaving and Bill (Farshid Rokey) who has never fitted in and is more than a little bit odd. While we quickly see a few cracks in Deesh's marriage to Barry (Ezra Faroque Khan) they are so eager to keep up appearances they are throwing the fanciest party imaginable.
Vira's life could not be more different. Single and jobless, she drinks, curses and says totally inappropriate things. But Vira (Sukh Ojla) is also different because she wants to sweep away false appearances and get to the truth.
As the party begins Vira, whose nickname from her elder sister is Elephant, refuses to attend and this is the beginning of the unspinning of the family's web of lies. And under the glossy surface of that ritzy party, we discover sexual abuse, violence and self-deception.
Bhatti's play definitely changes tone once the lies begin piling up. Initially, Elephant is funny as the family's quirks and Vira's sharp comments keep the drama light. But once we begin to see the real reasons for those quirks and for Vira's bitterness it's far less humorous.
Bhatti's playwriting career has been hugely successful although she is probably best known for her controversial drama Behzti (Dishonour) set in a Sikh temple. The drama, also premiered at Birmingham Rep but in 2004, sparked riots in Birmingham from members of the Sikh community and led to the show being cancelled part way through its run.
That hasn't led to Bhatti shying away from difficult topics though. She sets Elephant in a Sikh family and explores issues such as male female inequality, acceptance of sexual abuse within the home, arranged marriage and social standing based on wealth.
All of the cast members are strong but it's Ojla as Vira and Yasmin as Deesh who stand out largely because of the intensity of their performances. As their fragile relationship is repaired, torn apart again and then rebuilt on a new understanding the audience veers back and forth between the two sisters.
This intensity is helped by Elephant being performed in the Rep's studio space The Door. Directed by Lucy Morrison the 90-minute drama doesn't waver but continues on relentlessly as the truths are revealed.