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My Daughter's Trial

The legal world has always been a tempting source for dramatists, with its high stakes, opposing narratives, shocking twists, theatrical arguments and compelling conflicts building to a thrilling climax.

Jabine Chaudri’s site-specific My Daughter’s Trial, relocated from the Soho Theatre to Browns Courtrooms, is at its best when it makes full use of that genre, but unfortunately shoehorns in a complex domestic plot as well, and, in a stuffed 90 minutes, doesn’t have time to do either justice.

What makes this particularly frustrating is that Chaudri shows potential to offer a unique perspective on both the intricacies and occasional absurdities of English law (Chaudri is a pseudonym for practising barrister Gulshanah Choudhuri) and the clash of cultural and generational expectations faced by contemporary British Muslims.

Harried protagonist Parveen (Goldy Notay) is our link between the two plots, racing from defending a suspect to playing mediator for her mentally ill mother (Sakuntala Ramanee) and cantankerous father (Narinder Samra), who, in between shouting matches and arson, are keen to reopen a debate on arranged marriage.

 How convenient, then, that Parveen’s case also involves tensions generated by an interracial relationship, and that her opposing counsel is none other than the ethnically illicit love of her life, traded in for a disappointing parental-approved husband.

Yes, that overly neat paralleling is as soapy as it sounds, and the confusing timeline and hasty chopping between short scenes doesn’t help. At times, the screeching tonal shifts threaten to give the audience whiplash, and the nuance of both plots is sacrificed for thematic hammer blows.

Again, this is frustrating, because so much of the topical, emotive subject matter deserves richer exploration, but such meaty issues as racial tension (and possible legal bias), mental illness and state versus family care, and the reconciling of cultural tradition and integration are all given short shrift. Characters spout awkward, declarative statements, but there isn’t sufficient dramatic illustration or humanisation.

The choice of Browns Courtrooms both helps and hinders, lending some authenticity to a case that never quite takes off (and oddly lacks the presence of the defendant), but making the location jumps feel particularly jarring without the aid of lighting or effects, despite the best efforts of director Janet Steel.

The audience is sometimes addressed as the jury, yet never asked to participate beyond the obligatory ‘all rise’ – nor did I feel either informed or emotionally invested enough to vote on an outcome.

However, a largely stellar cast find moments of humour and pathos, particularly James Daniel Wilson as a charming public school boy type, able to pivot instantly from comic banter to romantic yearning; the sadly underused Robin Griffith, brilliantly anchoring the piece as an irascible judge; and Narinder Samra, both clawing some resonance out of his underwritten father role and stealing the show as a roguish witness.

Sakuntala Ramanee and Goldy Notay struggle in comparison, but the former has arguably an insurmountable tonal challenge, and the latter a character with no respite from personal and professional Armageddon. That might be enough to excuse her somewhat hysterical delivery.

Overall, this feels like a play that could be fascinating with further development and more breathing room – oh, and a stronger climax. I sincerely hope Kali and/or the Soho support such development, because this is the kind of new voice we need in our theatrical landscape.

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Reviewed 16/04/13/

By Marianka Swain

8th – 25th Apr 2013
Browns Courtrooms, London, WC2N


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