The Cord: Written and directed by Bijan Sheibani

The Bush Theatre continues its winning streak of showcasing new writing with The Cord. Written and directed by Bijan Sheibani, this one-act play follows his highly praised debut The Arrival, which premiered at the venue back in 2019. Here, the writer presents us with a strikingly intimate observation of a young family. Ash and Anya were enjoying their relationship but now they have a new-born who has inevitably disrupted their dynamic. The baby’s arrival ushers some formally dormant feelings and uncomfortable truths to the fore as past trauma claws its way to the surface. While the narrative of new parents struggling is nothing new, Sheibani’s masterful dialogue and astute character study allows the piece to immediately captivate and consume its audience.

Eileen O' Higgins (Anya) and Irfan Shamji (Ash) in 'The Cord' at Bush Theatre. Photo Manuel Harlan.
Eileen O’ Higgins (Anya) and Irfan Shamji (Ash) in ‘The Cord’ at Bush Theatre. Photo Manuel Harlan.

We are seated around a square stage with the three players returning to chairs in each corner following their scenes, much like boxers in the ring. Explosions of anger and frustration are vented and there is an impressive use of mime to conjure such images as a baby being rocked to sleep by its severely sleep-deprived parents. That sense of fatigue and feeling of being somewhere between sleep and consciousness is emphasised by Oliver Fenwick’s dreamlike lighting.

While the obvious choice might be to focus more on new mum Anya (Eileen O’Higgins), Sheibani is more concerned with Irfan Shamji’s Ash. The new father is struggling to bond with his child, which has permitted his various insecurities to take a hold of him. His interactions with his mother, Jane, played by an utterly convincing Lucy Black, only serve to exacerbate his tortured mindset. Her struggles with mental illness are not overtly examined but its impact on her son still lingers.

Sheibani was one of the writers on the recent Netflix hit One Day and his gift for naturalistic dialogue with deeper subtext radiates from the stage along with his ability to create smooth scene transitions. Composer and Sound Designer Colin Alexander builds tension and punctuates poignant moments as he plays the cello throughout, affording the production further layers.

With compelling performances, we find our sympathies shifting between each character. Black’s practical, matter-of-fact Jane is engaging to watch; however, her back-story leaves us yearning for further exploration. O-Higgins offers a multi-faceted portrayal of a new mother navigating her way through a sea of uncertainty but again, we do not delve into her character in as much depth as she warrants. That said, this is very much Ash’s story and Shamji incorporates a real thoughtfulness about his character, who we can see from different perspectives, flitting between sympathy towards him and concern at some of his behaviours. The cast are a joy to watch with Aline David’s movement direction affording the production powerful imagery in the absence of set and scenery.

The hour and twenty minutes pass by quickly. Simple on the surface, The Cord conceals weighty themes and offers a well-drawn, carefully considered examination of family dynamics. An absorbing and emotive experience.

4 stars

Review by Jonathan Marshall

“Sometimes when I look at him, I feel like he’s me.
But if the baby is me, then who am I? You?”

Ash and Anya were happy, just the two of them. Then the baby came.

Ash has spent the first two weeks of his son’s life trying to work out where he fits. He watches his mother holding her grandchild for the first time, mesmerised by the mystery and delight of a new life. After she leaves, Ash watches Anya feeding their son – so close, almost intertwined.

As sleepless nights, relentless crying and hushed arguments take their toll, a storm starts to grow as a nightmarish chasm widens between Ash and his wife, his mother, and even his son.

A Bush Theatre production
The Cord
Written and Directed by Bijan Sheibani
Movement Direction by Aline David
Set and Costume Design by Samal Blak
Lighting Design by Oliver Fenwick
Composer and Sound Design – Colin Alexander
Sound Consultant – Gareth Fry

Cast – Lucy Black, Eileen O’Higgins, Irfan Shamji
Cellist – Colin Alexander

Written and directed by Bijan Sheibani
A Bush Theatre Production

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