Theatre review - Disgraced

Ayad Akhtar’s compelling play about multiculturalism and religious identity proves particularly timely, given the recent fallout from the terrorist atrocity in Woolwich. DISGRACED won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and looks set to wow London audiences.

Amir (Hari Dhillon), a successful corporate lawyer and his wife Emily (Kirsty Bushell), an up-and-coming artist, live in a smart New York apartment on the Upper East Side. Amir claims to have renounced the Muslim faith because he finds it “backward”. His white, American wife, meanwhile, likes to draw on the influences of Islamic art. They’re in love and seem to have everything they could wish for. Amir is just waiting to be made a partner in his law firm.

However, it transpires that Amir has made some bad judgments. To get ahead at work, he denied his Pakistani roots, altered his personal security number and changed his Muslim surname to Kapoor. At the request of his nephew Abe (Danny Ashok) and Emily, Amir agrees to support an imam, imprisoned without due process, but is dismayed when he is quoted in the press, fearing it will harm his career prospects. Appearance is everything to Amir – he even wears $600 shirts.

The cracks begin to show during a dinner party they host for Amir’s African American colleague Jory (Sara Powell) and her husband Isaac (Nigel Whitmey) a Jewish art curator interested in Emily’s work. It’s a potent mix and the characters’ different cultural perspectives, disagreements and personal rivalries provide the meat of the play. Gradually, various bitter resentments and the suppressed prejudices of the four are revealed. When Amir admits that he felt a blush of pride at 9/11, it’s a genuinely shocking moment, swiftly followed by an act of domestic violence that is to leave his life in shreds.

Nadia Fall’s production is beautifully paced and acted. Dhillon eloquently conveys the fall from grace of a debonair, arrogant achiever and Bushell invests Emily with just the right measure of charm and ambition. Incredibly this is Akhtar’s first work for stage. He tackles a lot of thorny questions around race, class and religion but offers no easy answers. In his choice of subject and its execution Akhtar displays a real flair for what makes good drama and DISGRACED had me gripped from beginning to end.

Running at the Bush Theatre until Sat 29 Jun, 2013