When the Crows Visit review – an uncomfortable watch devoid of hope

The Kiln, London
For all its good intentions, Anupama Chandrasekhar’s play about patriarchal violence against women in India relies too heavily on shock

I want to shed my skin and scoop out my ears. Anupama Chandrasekhar’s bleak show about violence towards women in India is an uncomfortable watch entirely devoid of hope. For all its good intentions, When the Crows Visit is not a show I would recommend to anyone who has experienced sexual assault.

On Richard Kent’s shadowy mansion-house set, a family demonstrates how money and privilege can protect reputation. There is an echo of Ibsen’s Ghosts, with a son, Akshay (Bally Gill), inheriting his father’s violence towards women, and a mother, Hema (Ayesha Dharker), desperate to protect her child no matter the cost. “I wanted you to be a good man,” she cries, when the police come knocking. The damage caused by bystander behaviour is gruesomely powerful, as money shifts blame, like feathers on the wind brushing past the guilty to coat the innocent.

Indhu Rubasingham’s production takes a while to settle into itself, with the too-shouty start undoing any subtlety of the script and some tonally odd switches along the way. As a vile toxicity is injected into the family, slowly and then all at once, a blanket gloom stretches across the stage, while the women who show any form of resistance are brutally punished. The air is thick and no light can get in.

Stories of assault need to be told, but how they are told matters. While there is never any doubt that Akshay is guilty, he is the one given a voice. He gets to be funny, interesting, attractive and kind to his grandma. The female victim is just a ghost; we know how her vagina was brutalised and cut with glass before we even know her name.

Of course, this is the point: the world is suffocated by patriarchal violence, often cloaked in charm. But there are more responsible ways to tackle sexual assault; a desire to bear witness does not mean the audience – who have come to a show billed as a “dark thriller” – need to leave with a woman’s screams ricocheting inside their heads. When the Crows Visit should be admired for its intention to face systemic sexual assault in India head on, but it relies too heavily on shock and disgust, and the traumatic final scene is cruelly gratuitous.


Kate Wyver

The GuardianTramp

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