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The Chosen Haram by Sadiq Ali at The Place, London

First things first: Circus is a pretty queer theatrical medium as it is. All gleaming muscles and held-intimacy, with gender-bending moments the norm. So it’s an ideal match for two-hander The Chosen Haram, billed as an exploration of sexuality, chemsex, faith, addiction and connection. For lead performer Sadiq Ali, it’s personal. The show is developed from his own experience, and others who’ve shared it, of growing up Muslim and coming to accept their queer identity.

The Chosen Haram - Photo by IneptGravity.
The Chosen Haram – Photo by IneptGravity.

This being a physical performance, the plot, such as it is, is relatively straightforward. A devoutly religious man meets a guy who lives in an addict’s squalor, they hit it off, fall in love, tip over into dark habits, and have the best and worst of times.

This being a physical performance, it is played out on a stripped-back set, with just a (messy) sofa and two Chinese poles for company. (That’s two tall poles, substantial enough to climb but narrow enough to grip.)

And this being a physical performance, as much is spoken in movement as in words – which is where the circus elements enter the mix. Key moments play out in the air. The freedom-from-gravity afforded by the equipment and aforementioned muscles allow for moving set-pieces to be danced across the stage and above it. The tentative edging closer, falling back, finding one another, is played out in three dimensions. It is particularly in these scenes – showing the heady early days of the relationship, two men finding each other against the odds – when I am touched and moved and, judging by the feather-drop silence in the theatre, so is the rest of the audience.

Ali and his co-performer Hauk Pattison make some innovative use of the two poles device. Synchronised movements (always an impressive winner) are joined by cling-film hammocks and plastic-sheet and fan-powered floating ghosts – neither of which I’ve seen before. Ultimately, though, if you’re looking for a blow-your-mind circus performance, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Even small-troupe shows are routinely packed with extraordinary feats of athletic prowess that outstrip this one.

The Chosen Haram is no doubt going for more narrative than those trick-focused performances, and it succeeds in that respect. The story itself is nothing particularly special, however. While in moments Ali’s personal history shines through, the raw material – queerness, drugs, masculinity, their conflict with religion – feels like well-trodden ground by this point in the 21st Century.

Don’t get me wrong: it is great to see a circus show wear its queerness loud and proud. It is a medium that can reach places far more intimate than the stereotypes its funfair origins evoke in most audiences. I am just left wanting more: a longer duration, a deeper exploration of its themes, a staying-with those tricky moments when we first come into contact with a potential loved one. Instead, the show rushes, a little unsure of itself, and turns away too quickly, just at the moment it is reaching its climax.

3 Star Review

Review by Ben Ross

A heady mix of love, drugs and Islam this unique and complex take on circus, performed on two Chinese Poles, is emotionally candid, heart-warming with moments of humour and joy. The story unfolds with gravity-defying tricks and extraordinary movement.

The Chosen Haram tells the story of two gay men, their chance meeting through a dating app, the highs and lows of their relationship and the barriers they must overcome, both social and cultural, in seeking happiness and personal fulfillment.


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