In a modern world where people move away from their home towns and countries, there is always a danger of a culture clash as the ways and rules of one set of people come up against those of another. On the whole, populations tend to acknowledge and, provided no laws are broken, accept the differences between groups. But, what happens when the culture clash is immense and takes place, not within diverse communities, but in a single family? Jennie Buckman’s new play Piece of Silk at the Hope Theatre examines this idea with frightening results.
In a house in North london, widowed Mum (Heather Coombs) lives with her two teenage daughters – Shaz (Tanya Vital) and Dunya (Samantha Shellie). Shaz is a natural storyteller and has lots of followers for her vlog on Vimeo. Her younger sister Dunya suffers from aspergers and is on the OCD spectrum. As well as the ladies, there is also Billy (Jack Bence) a friend of the family who has been around since he and Shaz were very young children. Though both of the girls are aware of their Indian heritage, from their father, they are truly Western teenagers and enjoy their fairly carefree life with their mother. However, their lives are about to change with the arrival of a visitor in the shape of half-brother Sami (Devesh Patel). Sami lives in India with his mother and has been brought up in a very traditional manner. Still, he seems affable enough and, as he is staying for a few weeks, Mum takes the opportunity to go on a holiday of her own to see her sister in Canada, leaving Sami to look after the girls.
Let’s start off with the obvious, Piece of Silk is not the easiest play to watch. By the end, my programme was a crumpled mess as I had grasped it so tight in my shocked reaction to what I had witnessed. I don’t want to go into too many details but this well written piece of work does not pull its punches in delivering its message. Writer Jennie Buckman did a lot of research with women’s organisations such as SBS (Southall Black Sisters), IKWRO (Iranian and Kurdish Women Rights Organization) and NSU (Not Shut Up) talking to women survivors of domestic violence and it really shows. Matilda Marangoni’s traverse set works very well on the whole, but if you are in the wrong place then it can be difficult to see the video projection. Tania Azevedo’s direction is spot on and keeps the audience’s attention as the story moves on.
The use of the Arabian Nights sub plot is extremely cleverly done and works really well. However, for me there were two pieces of truly tremendous writing that stood out. The first was when Sami, a hugely conflicted man, had a conversation with his dead father, and we really got some idea of what motivated him to do what he does. But the second, was when Shaz’s employer Ruby (Heather Coombs) talked about the violence she suffered at the hands of her husband. As she stood there, with some ‘magnificent’ bruises – full credit to whoever did the make-up – and talked in a matter of fact way about growing up in an an abusive household and her acceptance that this was the way things were meant to be, my heart really went out to her, and I’ve never felt more hatred of men than I did then. A fantastic piece of writing that Heather delivered absolutely perfectly, without a trace a self-pity but with such sincerity I am actually getting emotional remembering it now.
All told, this cast cannot be praised highly enough for their delivery from Billy’s initial narration through to the final scene, the cast never put a foot wrong. This is particularly true of Samantha Shellie whose portrayal of Dunya was spot on throughout. I guess if I had one criticism, it was the ending. Even though the play is over two hours long, I did think the ending was slightly rushed and a bit confusing. However, I have to say that overall Piece of Silk was an extremely interesting production. During the interval, I got involved in a fascinating conversation with two complete strangers about what we had seen and where the story was going to take us in the second act. If it’s any help, we all got the final result wrong. Piece of Silk is not easy to watch, but is thoroughly absorbing and keeps the attention of the audience thanks to the fantastic writing and superb acting. You won’t leave the theatre with a smile on your lips, but instead you will have learnt a lot whilst being entertained and treated to a fascinating night at the theatre.
Review by Terry Eastham
Inspired by The Arabian Nights and drawing on the shocking stories of women survivors of domestic violence, PIECE OF SILK proves definitively that ‘story-telling is a matter of life and death’.
Jennie Buckman, writer (Rada, BBC, National Theatre) and Tania Azevedo, director, worked with Southall Black Sisters, Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights’ Organisation and artists from Not Shut Up Collective to create this refreshing, multi-media, new play.
The performance lasts 2 hours & 10 minutes including interval. No re-admittance once the performance has commenced.
Over 18s only. Due to pub licensing laws no one under the age of 18 is permitted into the building after 7pm
Piece of Silk
writer JENNIE BUCKMAN / director TANIA AZEVEDO
14 June – 2 July 2016