REVIEW: THE CHOSEN HARAM @ THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH
🎭 The Chosen Haram
📍 The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR
🗓 Tuesday 7th November 2023
AN UNEQUIVOCLE MASTERPIECE
I walked into The Drum at Theatre Royal Plymouth last night with no real idea what I was about to watch! Was it a play? Maybe it was a dance piece? Turns out it was neither! The piece is a mixture of drama and circus skills, but what is striking about it is that there’s absolutely no dialogue. What The Chosen Haram does is prove then when a story is this strong, words are insignificant.
This story is a powerful piece that is born out of real-life experiences of the show’s creator Sadiq Ali and bravely delves into the depths of addiction alongside sexuality and faith. Ali also interviewed members of the LGBTQ+ community who identify as Muslim or ex-Muslim to enable him to tell a remarkable story full of realism.
As I entered the auditorium I was greeted with a rather stark set. Just two poles, a sofa and a few other miscellaneous items. The surprise was that the two performers were cocooned separately, up against one of the poles each. There’s already a distinct difference between these characters, just in the way they are presented here. Ali is wrapped tightly in black, fully covered from head to toe, where as fellow performer Hauk Pattison is covered much looser, with just a jacket covering him. From this simple imagery, I was already certain that these two characters would come from opposing backgrounds into the story. It’s as though they’re the same, yet inherently different.
Ominous music plays as Ali slowly but surely breaks free of his cocoon. Dressed in traditional clothing we see him practicing his religion and he performs some circus work on the pole. The imagery is powerful when he’s at the very top and spread between the poles chanting.
Pattison emerges a lot quicker and somewhat erratically, alongside a shift-change in the music. Whereas Ali seems to live a life ruled by religion and rules, Pattison is seen to be a lot more free and is almost without purpose.
We see Ali return to the stage, this time dressed in everyday clothes and we see a moment where he lusts after Pattison in the street. Due to his religious upbringing he immediately feels shame and there is a wonderfully raw moment where he is seen fighting his inner demons and attempting to wash his sins away in what is a masterclass of theatre. Lighting, sound and acting combine wonderfully here to really capture the moment.
Pattison then performs a solo piece as he wraps a film around the poles and gives an incredible performance. It is clear that although his character is a bit of a loose cannon, he is completely comfortable in his own skin - a complete juxtaposition to Ali’s character.
Both performers are utterly mesmerising from the very start and hold the audience in silent awe. It would be so easy for the circus skills to dominate the performance, but they are actually secondary to the story being told and are used to enhance and move the plot along, almost as a song would be in a musical.
After lusting after Pattison, we see Ali arrive at his door for an obvious hookup after meeting on a dating app. As Stand By Me plays we see a nervous Ali and a rather forward Pattison take part in what is best described as a mating dance, with Pattison presenting at the pole! As accomplished and mesmerising as the two are separately, it is when they come together where the real magic happens. It’s very evident that the two have complete trust in one another, and during this section of the performance there is a truly remarkable moment where the entire audience took an intake of breath as we witnessed something quite extraordinary.
We see Ali’s character happy and relaxed, as if he can really be himself for the first time.
The creative team behind The Chosen Harem have bravely gone all out and this is in no way a fluffy love story. It is raw and packed full of electricity and emotion. It doesn’t shy away from extremes and we see a lot of drug use and there is simulation of chem-sex which was unexpected. At times the sex scenes border on graphic, but are wonderfully balanced with humour which means that they are fantastically complex and are performed with grit and understanding.
The use of props to create the imagery around drugs and addiction is absolutely phenomenal. Using the simplest of props, the representation of crystal meth and addiction is fascinating and like nothing I have ever witnessed before.
Although only about an hour long, the story has a great depth and many nuances which takes the audience on a rollercoaster and the tragic finale, which is a serene display of agony, manages to completely engulf your emotions and self without overwhelming you. This is honestly one of the best endings I have ever witnessed in any piece of theatre.
The Chosen Haram (Haram being something that is forbidden by Islam) is absolutely unmissable. There is only one more chance to see it in Plymouth so head to www.theatreroyal.com now to secure a ticket before it’s too late. The way this piece has been put together is an absolute sensation. The circus skills, choreography, lighting and dramatisation blend wonderfully to create a masterpiece.
If you ever get a chance to see this piece, then do not hesitate to get yourself a ticket. Believe me when I say this is like nothing you have ever seen before, or are likely to see again!
All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest, fair and free from influence. Theatre is subjective and it is important to remember that all views expressed are just those of one reviewer.
My ticket for this performance of The Chosen Haram was gifted by Theatre Royal Plymouth who invited me to watch the show in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my ticket was gifted played no part in the content of my review or the star rating given.
Lead Artist and Performer - Sadiq Ali; Performer - Hauk Pattison; Circus Movement Consultant - Conor Neall; Dramaturg - Rishi Trikha; Sound Designer - Guy Veale; Original Compositions - Kester Hynds; Lighting Design - Jamie Heseltine; Costumes - Cleo McCabe; Technical Stage Manager - Chris Gorman; Mentor - Al Seed
RUNNING TIME (approx):
65 minutes, with no interval
Contains scenes of a sexual nature, drug use and imagery that some people may find upsetting. There is use of strobe lighting which carries on for an extended amount of time.
The Theatre Royal Plymouth is the principle home of the performing arts in the South West and is the largest and most attended regional producing theatre in the country. Their mission is to develop and deepen people's engagement with pioneering creativity in Plymouth and the South West, delivering experiences that spark delight, expression and fulfilment. The venue offers three performance spaces of various sizes, the largest being The Lyric which accommodates the big touring productions. The Drum and The Lab are smaller, intimate spaces and often offer pioneering productions and I have personally seen some excellent productions in these spaces. www.theatreroyal.com