Aching affairs of the heart

Sully and Caneze

Adam Samuel-Bal as Sully and Krupa Pattani as Caneze. Pictures: Robert Day


Coventry Belgrade, B2


BLOOD, they say, is thicker than water. It’s a theme that comes round repeatedly in Emteaz Hussain’s compact two-actor play.

But, we learn gradually, family can mean anything from wisdom and old wives’ tales, well-meaning aunts and concerned siblings, to restrictiveness, cruelty, assault and sheer brutality.

Caneze and Sully (Suleiman), in their end teens or more likely early 20s, have met each other in a college canteen. It’s the one good thing that happens in college, which she finds unbelievably tedious, making ‘inept well-meaning conversation’, while he is more than unhappy with the lower grade work he is forced to do, and living ‘in this godforsaken backwater’.

They are, in fact a couple made for each other: dissatisfied, essentially lonely without one another, viewing things around them as ‘shit’, yet joyous and upbeat and optimistic when they have each other to turn to. Things suddenly go wrong when he leaves to find better work in Pakistan (‘peoples have different worlds they step in and out of and I is no different’). Their subsequent – almost inevitable - reconciliation is touching.

The first aspect to applaud is the lights: Sara Perks’s finely designed rear stage set, a sort of formal cluster of transparent boxes as appealing as some Bauhaus house design, is turned by Aideen Malone’s lighting into a feast of invention.

Lit from rear, in ice blue, purple, orange, green, yellow and other hues, they constantly add something to the action, and feel apt and relevant, not just gratuitous.

The effect is slightly kaleidoscopic, and genuinely beautiful. All the more surprise that the colour which impacts most strongly at one juncture is plain white. The lights’ timing and switching was perfect; and suited the Belgrade B1 space ideally: quite a tricky and challenging lighting plot to get right.

There’s a musical score running nearly throughout, by Arun Ghosh, which really has the same effect too: it’s plaintive, touching, sometimes sustaining and reassuring, only occasionally tense or irritable. Sometimes Ghosh keeps it almost subliminal, so you only just sense it in the background. It is not insistently Islamic at all, though there is an undertow of Indian subcontinent music which is hugblood castely affecting. It would have been easy to overdo this aspect. Part of the great success of the show is that it never does so.  

The two young actors are Krupa Pattani (as the girl Caneze) and Adam Samuel-Bal, who plays Sully. They are both an absolute treat. They handle a lengthy script effortlessly without a hint of a prompt. Their great art is to make their characters so ordinary, humble almost, and yet register so strongly and attractively.

Sully and Caneze opening doors

They are feeling their way in the world – essentially a Midlands Pakistani community. Their simplicity features in many ways – his obsession with half a chicken at Nando’s, for instance, which emerges at their first meeting (she however is vegetarian).

Emteaz Hussain has maintained the variety by inserting a series of soliloquies to break up the couple’s dialogue. At times, certain passages almost feel like Greek Tragedy. There is a special poetry to Sully’s rapture over a full moon, another effect splendidly lit by Aideen Malone.

Caneze is more assertive, perhaps the stronger: she rhapsodizes innocently over a vision of marriage. She urges herself to organise her studying better. But more feistily, ‘There isn’t just one way to Allah, like most of the stupid people here think. I’m going to God in my own way’. She sees formal Islamic attire as ‘a rip-off’.

Perhaps her most significant assertion is ‘Sometimes when I’m with Sully I feel strangely free.’ Freedom to be themselves, indeed freedom from family, is what both are striving and yearning for. That, presumably, is the most significant reason why after he takes off to Pakistan and works, it seems, in a travel and airline office, she – after an initial pouty rejection – welcomes him back. They both are each other’s route to freedom.

When they kiss, as they finally do from halfway through the first half, there is a real tenderness. A beauty, in fact. There is also silence: Director Esther Richardson is particularly sensitive in calibrating the volume: their exchanges are finely modulated. There is scarcely a raised voice in the whole production, yet every word is beautifully clear and audible. She is also skilled at managing what in music would be called ritenuti: a structured slowing down at the end of a sentence, which gives the final words, especially Caneze’s, added impact. Every word the pair utters, whether alone or together, one could fairly call empathetic.

There’s a witty exchange for Sully when he’s being lectured by an unavoidable aunt: family know what’s best for him, they insist; he knows otherwise, but seeks not to be hurtful in his response. After all, as Caneze repeats paradoxically, ‘If you don’t have family, what have you got?’ There are some hearty laughs to cheer an attentive audience. To make a change they sit together in a hubble-bubble tea bar. Sully, raising a few pounds by working, says ‘They even let be do a bit of cooking’.

But there are aches and pains on the way. Even as we build to the prospect of a wedding possibly – just maybe - taking place, the importance of trust is powerful. ‘It’s like you don’t trust me’. The events in the play are when Caneze cuts one of her wrists – not very seriously it seems, but a call for attention.

We got a hint of this at the start, where she said (without punctuation), ‘It’s juss my own flesh and blood it doesn’t make sense if I cut it and it bleeds it makes sense I half expect not to bleed.’

And – a real shock this – we learn that her brother Yusuf, seeking to maintain the family rights over his sister, rapes her. It’s simply enacted, the wrongdoer is not seen, but she is patently violated: and one of the points at which the vulnerability of this duo becomes most patent.

When someone tries to break into their home and haven – it turns out to be a false alarm - Sully’s knife-bearing nervousness, indeed terror – will he be called on to kill? – was moving. ‘Just the wind’, she says: the wind which blows them – who knows where next? But perhaps there’s a feeling the wind may blow them good, and is not after all remain an ill wind. To 11-04-15

Roderic Dunnett



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